1As Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1997 and then Prime Minister from June 2007 to May 2010, Gordon Brown was in charge of economic policy in a time that proved the longest period of economic expansion in the UK’s history. Posing as the champion of macro-financial prudence, he was once unanimously praised for turning the UK into one of the OECD’s top performers—until the turnaround in the UK’s economic fortunes. The financial crisis which erupted in the summer of 2007 and the ensuing downturn have all been associated with Brown’s action in government. His responsibility in the current recession is therefore openly questioned. In the trough of a recession exceptional in both scope and length, it appears that economic policy has failed to achieve the long-term growth and stability objectives set in 1997.
2In this turmoil, Gordon Brown said in his speech at the Labour Party Forum in February 2009 that the Party had “(…) to rebuild a financial system where it has failed, and then to create an economy in which banks are no longer serving themselves but are serving the public of this country.” Beyond Brown’s individual responsibility in the policy of his successive governments, this statement raised the question of New Labour’s collective responsibility, an issue which eroded confidence in its ability to manage the country’s economy.
3This issue of L’Observatoire de la Société Britannique tries to put Brownomics into a long-term perspective, analysing the UK’s changing economic landscape in the Brown years, with specific emphasis on economic policies and their impact on British society. It gathers the articles of some of the speakers who participated in the workshop on “The Brown Years: The UK Economy & Society (1997-2010)”, organised in April 2010 by CERVEPAS, a Sorbonne Nouvelle research centre in the economies of English-speaking countries.
4In his article, Christopher John Nock explores the initial New Labour project which relied on economic growth to right the social ills of British society. The author insists on the fact that growth required the continuation of Thatcherite neo-liberalism and an embracing of the realities of globalisation. Yet, old Labour concerns for social justice and equal opportunities could be accommodated provided appropriate policies were developed that encouraged economic activity rather than draining it. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown was central to promoting and pursuing this approach. Christopher John Nock underlines it was an approach that generated a new set of meanings for traditional Labour terminology, previously associated with the post-war welfare state and Keynesian management of the economy, although the claim was that traditional Labour principles remained intact. However, the economic crisis exposed the blatant limitations of New Labour’s approach that Christopher John Nock explores. The author argues that New Labour’s dash for growth – overseen by Gordon Brown – led it to misunderstand the social damage caused by thirty years of neo-liberalism and the gross limitations of its own approaches to rectifying it.
5Next, Catherine Coron analyses the social impact of Gordon Brown’s major economic policies, which are referred to as Brownomics in the light of the Third Way. On Monday 26 January 2009, the Guardian published the results of a poll entitled “Who led us down the Road to Ruin – Twenty-five people at the heart of the meltdown”. Among the four politicians mentioned Gordon Brown was the only British, the others being Bill Clinton, George Bush, and the American Senator Phil Gramm. So it seems that Gordon Brown’s role as “the main architect of the economic dimension of the Third Way project” appears as crucial, an issue which Catherine Coron fully verifies. The author’s second question deals with the social impact of the economic crisis in the United Kingdom. Issues such as the job crisis, skill shortages, over-indebtedness and finally social and salary discrepancies are examined to find out about what has become of the British economic model which fluctuates between liberalism and neo-Keynesianism.
6Simon Lee then argues that Gordon Brown’s Beyond the Crash analysis of the current crisis as ‘the first crisis of globalisation’ is fundamentally flawed. He strongly denies Gordon Brown simply was a detached observer of events caused by the greed of others, as the book seems to pretend. Simon Lee indeed demonstrates that what Gordon Brown has actually documented is the first crisis of his own deeply flawed British model of political economy, which socialised risks and privatised profits. The paper explores how Gordon Brown’s attempts to modernize the politics and political economy of the United Kingdom, using the City of London’s liberalized markets as a blueprint, has left the United Kingdom facing an age of austerity that was politically self-inflicted rather than financially imposed by external global market forces.
7Nathalie Champroux analyses Gordon Brown’s reform of the monetary framework. She first examines the reform, considering its three main elements, their aims and their novelty. Secondly, she performs an empirical assessment of the new framework, studying the evolution of inflation and growth before and during the financial and economic crisis which started in 2008. She shows that from 1997 to 2007, the new framework seemed efficient, but that the crisis then changed the rules: The expansionist interest rate policy, applied from December 2007, led to accelerating increase in prices while, during six consecutive quarters, Britain’s growth rate remained negative. The huge quantitative easing measures took over from conventional interest rate policy, but without the expected positive results. The observation of the current situation of stagflation leads Nathalie Champroux to question the value of Gordon Brown’s new monetary framework.
8Nicholas Sowels presents an analysis of Gordon Brown’s budget policies. Having begun by pursuing an extremely conservative fiscal policy during the late 1990s, Gordon Brown then presided over a massive expansion in public spending to improve public services. Nicholas Sowels underlines that this expansion was justifiable in many ways, given poor investment in public services during the Thatcher-Major years. But he also demonstrates that it was arguably not sufficiently financed through taxation, and direct taxation in particular. The result was a run up of public deficits prior to the current financial and economic crisis, which broke the Government's own fiscal rules. For Nicholas Sowels, this, in turn, paved the way to a substantial deterioration in public finances when the current crisis broke, a deterioration which may take years, if not decades to set right.
9Houari Mired focuses on the responsibility of New Labour’s governance practices in the regional economic disparity in England. He underlines New Labour’s commitment to develop a bottom-up approach in terms of regional policy management in the English regions that went hand in hand with the introduction of decentralized institutions. Noticing that persistent intervention did not prevent the concentration of economic problems within the same areas, the author questions the attribution of this uneven economic development mainly to economic factors. In fact, notwithstanding the negative consequences of the transformation of production systems, he thinks other variables, notably governance practices, should be emphasized. Relying on a case study approach, with a particular reference to the North East of England, Houari Mired underlines the institutional changes adopted since 1999 and analyses the impact of the initiatives that were deployed in the English regions with the intention of promoting innovative projects.
10Louise Dalingwater shows how New Labour failed to reduce the gap between the northern and southern regions, despite the unprecedented commitment to boosting economic performance in the lagging regions of the United-Kingdom it heralded, when being elected to government in 1997. She finds that towards the end of New Labour’s third term in office, the three northern English regions were performing well below the UK average on all main indicators. Louise Dalingwater also underlines the worrying dependency of northern regions on public sector jobs created under the previous government. She demonstrates that there was no role for demand in New Labour’s policy for the regions, and she reveals two major flaws of New Labour’s policies. First, Labour governments moved away from some of the more successful regional development policies of the past. Second, they focused on five drivers without previously proving that these essentially national drivers could be applied successfully at a regional level.
11Anne Beauvallet concentrates on education policies and their effects under Gordon Brown. For the author, although Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in June 2007 only, he played a key role in New Labour’s education policies from the start, with his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer. As Prime Minister he brought little change, with the exception of testing for 14-year-olds which were phased out in 2009. The author analyses several key issues in her paper, such as standards, private sector intervention, social mobility with an emphasis on access to higher education, basic skills of school-leavers, apprenticeships and vocational diplomas. She shows that progress is undeniable regarding apprenticeship schemes and standards, although the latter are still contentious, as are the basic skills of school leavers and diplomas. Anne Beauvallet demonstrates New Labour’s efforts on social mobility have had limited effects.
Pour citer cet article
Nathalie Champroux et Catherine Coron, « Forewords », Observatoire de la société britannique, 10 | 2011, 7-10.
Nathalie Champroux et Catherine Coron, « Forewords », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 10 | 2011, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2012, consulté le 29 avril 2017. URL : http://osb.revues.org/1097Haut de page
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