Sympathy for Gordon Brown

It appears almost certain that Gordon Brown will lead the Labour Party to a historically bad result in the upcoming election. It’s possible that Labour will stay in government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but that will almost certainly require Brown’s resignation as leader. Under the circumstances, it’s worth pointing out that whatever Brown’s flaws and despite the very real problems with the Labour government (Iraq, e.g.) he’s largely being punished for an economic crisis he didn’t cause, couldn’t have stopped, and has actually handled quite well. The global financial meltdown was not unique to Britain and the United Kingdom’s status as a country that’s unusually exposed to the ups-and-downs of the financial industry is extremely longstanding. The country has mostly been suffering from bad luck.

And thanks to the combination of the fact that Brown, as Chancellor, kept the UK out of the Euro and as Prime Minister has presided over substantial stimulus the British economy is actually weathering the recession pretty well. The latest news is that the manufacturing sector is surging forward and recovery is under way. Conditions aren’t great — they’re actually quite bad — but the situation is much better than what you see in other European countries.

It’s interesting that fundamentals-driven that ignores all this seems to impact not only the mass public, but also elites. The FT, in the course of endorsing David Cameron, concedes that “As a crisis manager, Gordon Brown has been a better premier than his critics claim” and simply doesn’t say anything about the substance of the Tories’ opposition to stimulus, a policy that had it been adopted would have sank the economy. The Economist does take this issue head-on and concludes that the Tories “were wrong to oppose the economic stimulus after the banking crash” but endorses them anyway. Basically, Britain confronted a giant economic challenger and the center-right party responded with such bad policies that even center-right business-focused newspapers think they were wrong, but conditions are bad so voters are urged to vote Tory anyway.

The only saving grace for Labour in these circumstances is the presence of a second credible center-left party that may produce a hung parliament rather than a Tory majority. Democrats heading into the midterms won’t have that boost. The point is that simply being right while your opponents are wrong won’t help you very much — conditions need to actually be good, or else you lose.