Gordon Brown is being given a lot of attention because he is promoting a new autobiography. I revisited a piece I wrote about him when he had been Chancellor for a decade, in 2007, as a result.
The main thrust of my argument in June of that year - just before the global financial crisis began to emerge - was that he had been two-faced with regard to tax, which was the lens through which I viewed his achievements. He had been tough at home and had raised the revenues he had needed; it is hard to recall such times. But internationally he had not just been lax, but had actually continued promotion of the UK as a tax haven, with light touch or non-existent regulation.
My conclusion was:
The conclusions are clear. Brown has achieved his objectives. He has raised the tax he has needed, but in doing so he has had to be tough. He would not have needed to be so tough on tax avoidance if he was not simultaneously promoting tax avoidance: the obvious folly of which is the current ‘tax amnesty’ for those UK tax residents who have not declared income on their offshore bank accounts; accounts on which they may well have had no tax liability if they had been living in the UK as a non-domiciled person.
The problem he leaves for his successor is that this strategy is time worn. The EU is running tired of the UK’s excuses. The political capacity for taxing a majority in the UK whilst a minority are given favour appears to be running out. Like Blair, Brown may be quitting his job at a good moment. Unlike Blair, Brown will retain responsibility for his legacy and will have to account for it as his premiership progresses.
I could not have been aware of how true that was. He is still trying to justify his actions. And he is still failing to recognise that it was his lax attitude to global capital that did for him. He still tries to persuade himself otherwise. He is not alone. But that is no defence. It is time he admitted the truth.