11 Nov 2015

Brown to Osborne: ‘rip up your tax credit cuts’

I’ve been listening to Gordon Brown as he paces up and down a stage giving some old time religion rhetoric in his attack on George Osborne’s tax credit measures. One who used to work for him said he was doing his “tethered dancing bear” routine.

Mr Brown said the policy was based on a “fiction,” one of a whole series of “myths” on which policy was based.

He said a temporary halt (the first step called by the cross-party DWP select committee) would still mean injustice and was not the answer.

He said inequality in the UK was already rising faster than anywhere else in the Western World. He said massaging the Osborne plan or phasing it in wasn’t the answer. The entire plan should be ripped up.

I asked him afterwards if he was really the right person to be winning George Osborne over, given that the current Chancellor sees Gordon Brown as the architect of much that is wrong with the British welfare state.

He didn’t really engage with that, but he did call on the remaining members of  his one-time team in the Treasury to tell the Chancellor what tax credits were for, and he rejected George Osborne’s claim that by 2010 nine out of 10 families in work were receiving tax credits.

One former MP who has worked with Gordon Brown over the years said he thought the former Prime Minister timed his interventions to pick up laurels and take credit when something was already going to happen anyway.

He was alluding to the Scottish Referendum as a previous incidence of this.

Mindful of the legacy of that referendum and the tightness of the vote, Gordon Brown included a special insult for George Osborne’s tax credit cuts plan: not just anti-women, anti fairness, anti-work but also anti-British.

It was a passionate defence of welfare help for children, delivered without notes, but in structure barely straying from the lengthy written speech handed out to journalists – a feat of memory grasp that few could rival.

Many of his old team came to watch. But one observed that the George Osborne mistake, as he saw it, over tax credits had strong echoes of Gordon Brown’s time in office.

Frank Field, who has been giving interviews to mark the report of the DWP Select Committee that he chairs, said it was “rich” of Gordon Brown to deliver lectures on U-turns as his own one on the 10p rate abolition was very slow, ungracious and involved spraying money around in an unfocused way.

When I put that to Gordon Brown he dismissed Frank Field as a man who had nominated Jeremy Corbyn and then criticised him.

That, I felt, begged the question what he thought of Jeremy Corbyn. You can see his answers above and make of them what you will.

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