The world calls for a leader as governments across Europe collapse, yet it may be that the man for the moment was the first to fall victim to the economic crisis.
Gordon Brown had a turbulent three years as Prime Minister and domestically it all went wrong from him. The 10p tax fiasco undermined his government, his inability to appease his cabinet undermined his party and by calling a ‘lil old lady’ a bigot, he undermined his relationship with the public.
But whilst Brown failed to find his feet as a domestic Prime Minister, he did much to bolster his curriculum vitae as an international leader to call on when there is a crisis. As Prime Minister he convinced Europeans that the banking crisis was a global problem, stabilised devolution in Northern Ireland, and even got the Chinese to agree (in principle…. kind of) to the Copenhagen climate agreement. But his greatest achievement was the G20 summit in London where the leading nations agreed to inject $1 trillion into the global economy.
Perhaps the most lasting achievement of Brown’s international ventures was his ability to pull China into the negotiations. The rising superpower has over $3 trillion in reserves and is the key to economic recovery; it must be pulled, tugged and cajoled into opening up its chequebook and buying foreign goods. The problem is that the country is export driven and wants to keep its currency artificially low to protect this interest. But the leadership can be forced into realising that it is in their interests to intervene as a strong Europe and America mean a strong market for Chinese goods.
But as with Churchill before him, Brown’s successes on an international stage were not enough to ensure a further term as Prime Minister. So where will the leadership come from?
China must be thrust to the forefront of the G20. This is what Obama and Brown realised and did so brilliantly in 2009 but seems to have been a lesson not heeded, as the latest instalment in Cannes was really the France, Germany and Greece show. China does not willingly push to spend its money externally without a guarantee of a return, so when austerity measures are placed at the heart of a meeting their politicians will happily take a further step back.
The traditional world leader is of course the United States of America, but President Obama is in no position to take up the mantle. The ‘greatest democracy in the world’ continues to fail as a system. He’s struggling to operate due to the severe restraints of a filibustering Republican House of Representatives home to a lunatic fringe of ‘Tea Party’ politicians. An approaching election will do nothing to free up time to rally the world behind a common cause.
So attention shifts from the leader of the free world to the leader of the Eurozone. Germany is the main European power and the head of the Eurozone, it needs to be strong and proactive but its leadership is floundering. Merkel is clearly an indecisive character by nature and it doesn’t help that the country she represents burdens here with a weighty recent history. Memories of the Weimar Republic and the hyperinflation that destroyed the German currency have, in the minds of the political elite, ruled out the use of the ECB as a lender of last resort. To expose the central bank to huge lending, quantitative easing and inflation is still a terrifying prospect for a country where a loaf of bread used to cost a wheelbarrow full of money.
So is there another British Prime Minister to rise to the challenge? Categorically no.
The UK has an awkward international position. Obama has made it a point of policy to look to the east making it difficult for the Prime Minister to maintain the ‘special relationship’. At the same time our European neighbours are increasingly focussing internally, decreasing the UK’s influence on the continent. Gordon Brown maintained very close relationships with both Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy earning their respect and their ear. Cameron has largely undone Brown’s meticulous work, earning the title ‘lightweight’ from Obama and being told to ‘shut up’ by Sarkozy. Though this country’s days of controlling an empire is a distant memory, Gordon Brown showed that Britain could still have a profound effect on global politics. But Prime Minister Cameron, aided by his vociferous Eurosceptic party, hasn’t made friends with anybody and is more isolated than any UK leader in memory.
Chancellor Merkel is the unwilling incumbent of the hot seat and though incredibly hesitant must eventually place her faith in the ECB. Whilst this may prove to take a long time to achieve, the wonderful truth about continuously doing the wrong thing is that eventually you are forced to do the right thing.