Woah. I doubt Brown will endure many tougher twenty-minute spells during this election campaign than his interview with on the Today Programme this morning. You could practically hear the crunching of his teeth, as John Humphrys took him on over Labour’s economic record; practically smell the sweat and fear dripping down his brow. It was compulsive, and compelling, stuff.
Humphrys started by putting a grim story to Brown: that his "handling of the economy was not prudent … your record suggests that the economy is not safe in your hands." The PM’s mission was to deny all this, and he did so with his usual stubborness and disingenuity. His pitch here was all about inflation: about how we’d avoided the high inflation of recessions past, and how we should be grateful for that. Indeed, I lost track of how many times he said "inflation" around the 25 mark.
But Humphrys spotted the trick. Inflation has remained low because this isn’t an inflation-driven recession. It’s a debt-fuelled one. Or as he put it: "Those are the old problems, you’ve created a new one." Brown, of course, denied that public debt was much to worry about. But Humphrys made the crucial point: that it wasn’t just public debt, but also personal debt, which shot up during the New Labour years. A culture of borrowing, borrowing, borrowing has built up around claims, like Brown’s, that we had finally broken free from boom and bust.
And there was more to come. On banking regulation, Humphrys asked why Brown had never thought "hang on – something’s not right here." On the idea that this was a global crisis, he pointed out that RBS was "the biggest bank in the world" at one point – on Brown’s watch. On Labour’s relationship with the City, he said that Brown "probably still has the taste … of prawns in his mouth," from the party’s "prawn cocktail offensive" in the Nineties. And so on. Brown was just left mumbling and stumbling on about inflation and people who had been "registered triple-A" in, erm, Mississippi.
As the interview came to close, Brown tried to turn things around to the Tories and their plans to fund the national insurcane cut. Worth keeping an eye on this, because Brown is mixing lots of figures – the Tories’ own; Labour’s and the Tories’; projections for the future, etc. – to produce different totals for Osborne’s planned efficeiency savings: £6bn, £12bn and £27bn. The last of these, Brown points out with relish, is "half of the schools Budget," as though the Tories would close half of all schools in the country.
Either way, Brown didn’t get too long to spout his numbers. Humphrys cut him off by saying, "oh no, we’re not going to let you talk about what the Tories are doing." And that just left time for Brown to claim that he’s "standing for the next five years". And for Humphrys to wryly observe that that’s "just like Tony Blair said he would". Indeed.
Brown just about dragged himself through it, thanks to his unwavering ability to say the same thing over and over again. But he sure didn’t sound too good in the process. And yet another day gets off to a bad start for No.10.