‘Give Gordon Brown the IMF’: big hitters weigh in
A Tory grudge should not prevent Brown replacing Strauss-Kahn, say economists
A backlash is growing among world politicians and economists against the British government's decision to block Gordon Brown's bid to take over the vacant chairmanship of the International Monetary Fund.
The announcement over the weekend by chancellor George Osborne that he would support the French finance minister Christine Lagarde for the post has been described as "shabby", "vindictive" and "absolutely scandalous".
Writing in the Evening Standard today, the former World Bank president Sir James Wolfensohn said "Gordon Brown has proved that he has the leadership skills, the vision and the determination to bring the world together. All candidates being considered have great talent but for me there is no greater candidate than Gordon."
The paper also quoted the economic historian Lord [Robert] Skidelsky, a crossbench peer, as being amazed at the decision to favour Lagarde over Brown. "I think he certainly should have been one of the leading candidates," said Skidelsky
"It is absolutely scandalous the British government is not putting him forward - in fact, it has done the reverse and made it clear that it would oppose him. He is incredibly well qualified. It seems to me very small-minded and petty."
Elsewhere, the Guardian's economics editor Larry Elliot today questions what would have happened had Tony Blair snubbed his predecessor John Major if he had sought such a role. He notes that both Osborne and prime minister David Cameron felt that they had been treated with "hostility and contempt" by Brown, and so "felt no obligation to a political opponent".
But Elliot also says that it's in the coalition's interest to portray Brown as the man who destroyed the British economy - a picture that wouldn't sit very well with their support for him to run a global financial institution.
Dan Hodges, an editor at the Labour Uncut blog, agreed, telling the Sunday Times yesterday that Osborne's choice "was vindictive, but again that's politics. The chancellor needs to cement the narrative that Brown screwed the economy, and by appointing him as head of the IMF cuts across that".
The Daily Mail's city editor Alex Brummer also puts the decision to block Brown down to a "Tory grudge". Brummer lauds Brown's decade as "chairman of the IMF's main policy-making panel, [when he] demonstrated a remarkable knack for global financial statesmanship. He was at the heart of the effort for debt forgiveness in Africa and pivotal in securing new funds for the IMF in the aftermath of the 2007-08 credit crunch."
Brummer does hold out the "unlikely but not entirely impossible" situation of Brown being able to get the IMF job without the support of his own government. With the Americans holding a sixth of the votes on the nomination committee, the former PM, a great Atlanticist, could build a coalition of support from elsewhere.
"There is no doubt that Brown, despite his ruined reputation at home, retains support among America's Democratic elite," writes Brummer. "In his circle are some of America's top economists, including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman as well as president Obama's former top White House adviser Lawrence Summers."
Stiglitz wrote last year he "believed that were it not for the strong Keynesian policies that Brown pushed around the world, the global downturn would have been much worse". Brown helped the world avoid "a global depression", the economist said. Krugman famously asked in the New York Times in 2008 if "Brown [had] saved the world financial system?"
Perhaps aware that their decision looks remarkably like the sort of petty, 'Punch and Judy' politics that they claimed to be moving away from, the government attempted yesterday to suggest that they hadn't been aware of Brown's campaign for the IMF role.
Foreign secretary William Hague told the BBC's Politics Show that "we have never received any public or private communication in the government from Gordon Brown seeking to be a candidate for this position".
Last night, Westminster observers described Hague's remark as disingenuous given that David Cameron had already indicated weeks ago that he would block any bid by the former Labour leader. ·
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