x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Lessons from Gordon Brown

In a packed Manarat Saadiyat auditorium last week, Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister, assured that the problems of Wall Street and the high street can, and will be, fixed.

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

Those lucky enough to have secured a seat in a packed Manarat Al Saadiyat auditorium last week to listen to the Right Honorable Gordon Brown MP discuss "What the Global Economy Needs" will have left the island of happiness in an altogether optimistic mood, assured that the problems of Wall Street and the high street can, and will be, fixed.

The former prime minister of the United Kingdom outlined a compelling argument for international cooperation to resolve the current global financial crisis. Collecting both cultural and political references - he cited Winston Churchill, as well as the poets Robert Frost and Alfred Lord Tennyson during his address - Brown appeared capable and inspirational, willing and able, to sort out these problems.

Critics of the former prime minister will say he failed to demonstrate such clarity of thought, and confidence in tone, during his period in office. Indeed, much of this three-year residence at 10 Downing Street was marred by infighting and indecision.

Brown assumed Britain's highest political office in 2007, two years into Tony Blair's unprecedented third term as a Labour Party PM, after finally persuading his predecessor to loosen his grip on the levers of power.

Blair's decade in power had been a period marked by almost unrivalled prosperity: house prices and consumer confidence, the twin measures of the well-being of the British psyche, both soared in the years after 1997, as an economic miracle - engineered by Brown, delivered by Blair - helped the nation scale new heights of prosperity.

Indeed, half way through the 10 years of Blair's premiership, Brown, then in charge of the treasury, addressed a union conference and declared that Britain under Labour had achieved "economic stability not boom and bust". We all know what would happen later.

Three months after becoming PM in 2007, Brown would preside over the first run on a UK bank in decades and would later talk himself out of going to the polls in a general election he would almost certainly have won - an election victory that would also have assured that he was still pacing the halls of Westminster, rather than the stage of Saadiyat, however welcome his presence was in Abu Dhabi last week. Sometimes the fog of leadership clouds even the clearest of thinkers.

Brown's visit to these shores preceded by just a few days the arrival of an old-fashioned British political scandal, the sort of incident that may make the former PM glad he no longer has to deal with the demands of office.

Liam Fox, the now former defence secretary in David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government, resigned last weekend, when the questions and suggestions - particularly those pertaining to a high-octane trip to Dubai - that surrounded his working and personal relationship with Adam Werritty, refused to quieten down.

Fox now admits he allowed "the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred" in his dealings with Werritty, his former flatmate and his informal business adviser.

But what now for David Cameron, the man who succeeded Gordon Brown? His brief period as PM has been marked by a succession of personnel crises. It is, after all, only a few months since Andy Coulson stepped down as Cameron's director of communications, as the phone-hacking scandal took hold. Before Coulson there was David Laws, chief secretary of the treasury, who resigned after getting into a terrible muddle over his expenses. There have been scares for other, more senior figures, too.

If he is to serve out a full- term, Cameron must follow a version of the Brown doctrine, and be clear-headed in a crisis and decisive in his leadership. Failure to do so risks his next challenge becoming far more serious.