David Cameron this morning sought to scupper Gordon Brown’s potential appointment to head the International Monetary Fund.
The job is expected to come up within months if and when Dominique Strauss Kahn tilts for the French presidency ahead of next year’s elections. (Although Chris Giles, our economics editor, has dismissed the idea that Brown is a front-runner). Cameron, interviewed on the Today programme, was cattily dismissive:
“I haven’t spent a huge amount of time thinking about this, but it does seem to me that if you have someone who didn’t think we had a debt problem in the UK, when we self-evidently do have a debt problem, then they might not be the most appropriate person to work out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems….
“What matters is the person running the IMF is someone who understands the danger of excessive debt, excessive deficit, and it really must be someone who gets that rather than someone who says that they don’t see a problem.”
It is not clear if Cameron is talking about Britain’s debt issues pre-crash or post-crash.
It is true that Gordon Brown had his head in the sand during the build-up to the financial crisis, refusing to accept that systemic risk was building up in the system. Even when the house of cards started to fall he was still in a state of disbelief. (On a return flight from New York in the autumn of 2008 he became apoplectic when I questioned his belief that Britain had not experienced any ‘subprime’ lending).
But for Cameron to pretend that the Tories were any more concerned about the situation, pre-crunch, show a degree of chutzpah. Not only did the Conservatives agree to match Labour’s spending promises right up until the crash – which they would not have done if they predicted the meltdown. They also wanted even lighter regulation on the banks.
Where the Tories outmanouvred Labour post-credit crunch was in recognising that an enormous deficit had opened up; one that could not simply be ignored. (We described Brown’s attempts to dismiss this in June 2009 as “fundamentally dishonest“). On balance the public preferred Cameron’s relative honesty about the need to tackle the growing debt mountain.
Yet it does seem fair to say that Brown, for all his personal and strategic failings as a politician, did marshall a rescue strategy for the banks which – so far – seems to have worked much better than other policies pursued elsewhere. His success was certainly recognised in US political circles, as Andrew Ross Sorkin recognises in his seminal book “Too Big to Fail“. History may ultimately be more kind to him than the current received wisdom.