Nanny Brown’s bad year

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A review of Gordon Brown’s rocky first year as PM

British politics can be pretty obscure but sometimes it's worth taking stock to see what matters because the UK still punches above its weight internationally: this is a review of Gordon Brown's particularly rocky first year as Prime Minister, for the general reader overseas.

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LONDON — You may have missed the first anniversary of an unelected socialist ruler, his 42-day detention of terror suspects, his tax on the poorest and his record 2,823 new laws. Barack Obama just visited and so did George W. Bush so it's not Hugo Chávez (who was elected to his position): meet Gordon Brown, the Scottish MP allowed to vote on English matters in a British Parliament that cannot vote on Scottish matters, anointed Prime Minister by his predecessor Tony Blair.
Brown served 10 years under Blair as Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) and started by robbing pension funds with new taxes, selling the Bank of England's gold at a discount and appearing at a white-tie banquet in a business suit as an egalitarian gesture (but why not a T-shirt?). Fans call this period "prudent stewardship" of a (until recently) successful economy, implying governments create growth, not businesses, workers and consumers.
His latest prudent policy, amid oil and food inflation, is to hobbl e economic activity and levy Green taxes while India and China make environmentalist self-mutilation irrelevant.
So, Tax Freedom Day, when we stop working for Brown, has advanced inexorably, now reaching June 2 (the US equivalent is April 23). More than 20% of all workers are paid from taxes, about 14% live off welfare and many more are net tax recipients. Over £6 bln (US$12 bln) a year goes to the post-democratic, unaccountable and unauditable European Union, which imposes most of our new laws.
A European Constitution (re-branded a Treaty after defeat by French and Dutch citizens in 2004) became law here in July, further restricting our independence, after Brown reneged on a referendum promise (Ireland did get a referendum and defeated it). Internally, Blair's constitutional revolution left the dis-United Kingdom a semi-federal group, with only England having no Parliament.
Socially, we continue to lead the developed world in crime, ten times higher since the Fifties: since Labour banned handguns in 1997, gun crime has multiplied three-fold and we expect the same with knives, the latest headline panic.
Brown's foreign policy follows Blair's crusade to eliminate African poverty by shovelling in more of the trillions of dollars in aid that have sustained tyranny and poverty since the early Sixties. The African Union itself puts corruption at US$149 bln a year (about US$4,700 a second) but donors still subsidise governments without conditions, audits or any demands that their citizens be allowed the economic freedoms we take for granted. But he does get to meet rock stars.
He also continues to commit our half-a-war Armed Forces to two wars, denying them the equipment to fight either. UK forces in Iraq are too small to do much but big enough to take casualties. In Helmand, Britain's main responsibility in Afghanistan, opium production has increased ten-fold: the Taleban take a 10% levy, so they, at least, are much better off.
Before the invasion made Iraq the world centre, Britain came behind only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan for Islamist terrorist training and personnel. So, in the country that invented habeus corpus and due process, last month Brown introduced detention for 42 days purely for administrative convenience: it takes a long time to decode disks so, instead of better decryption, suspects pay the price.
The measure is not only bad but unnecessary: a suspect withholding a password need only be charged with obstructing a warrant and held as long as he persists. Detention without trial has been proven within the UK and within the last 40 years to be both useless and counter-productive: in Ulster it did not hamper the Irish Republican Army and it did increase their support.
A government report in early July said each British family wastes a teensy two dollars' food a day so Brown ruled "to get food prices down, we must do more to deal with unnecessary demand." This old "eat your spinach because poor children are starving" fallacy sparked many unfounded news reports that nanny Brown wanted to ban supermarket discounts on food, reflecting general resentment at his interfering manner.
Authoritarianism comes easy because Britain is the only democracy (save New Zealand) with effectively no second chamber: the House of Lords was shorn of independent members and power in Labour's class-war constitutional overhaul.
But Labour rebels cut his absolute majority in the House of Commons over the 42-day vote and forced him to rescind a tax increase on the poorest. The unions who give 90% of Labour's funds have held the biggest strikes for years and Brown has just yielded on higher minimum wages and paid leave.
Much bigger news than Obama's uncharacteristically quiet visit a week ago (no free concert, unlike Berlin) was Labour's second by-election loss of a safe seat under Brown, on 24 July in Glasgow, following widespread defeats in May's municipal elections, including London. But he has two years before a General Election comes due: unpopularity is a badge of honour when you know you are right.