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Media Spotlight: Beyond the crash by Gordon Brown

It’s not been an easy year for Gordon Brown after a brutal election defeat and seeing his track record as both chancellor and Prime Minister trashed by the coalition government and former colleagues.

Perhaps the final humiliation is to see his old enemy Tony Blair’s book dominating bookstores while his own – Beyond The Crash – languishes in the cellar, only to be dug out on request.

But then Brown isn’t interested in writing a bestseller and his book doesn’t contain the kind of gossip that Blair’s, Peter Mandelson’s or Alistair Campbell’s do. This is a detailed account of why the financial crisis happened, how to manage the recovery and the future of the global economy.

Brown is committed to globalisation and free trade, and his big theme is that financial problems require global solutions.

No problem can be solved in isolation, he argues. It must be done through co-ordinated global action.

Brown’s proudest moments in the crisis came from global co-operation. This includes the Bank of England lowering interest rates by 1% in 2008 at the same time as the European Central Bank and US Federal Reserve, among others.

He is also immensely pleased with the creation of G20 and his role at summits in London and Pittsburgh. At these in 2008 and 2009 Brown led the world towards fiscal stimulus, bank bailouts, lower interest rates and global action.

Brown’s views have quickly fallen out of fashion after the debt crisis in Europe and the election of the coalition in the UK but at the time he was influential.

Now it is popular to trash the mess Labour left but Brown kept arrears and unemployment at impressively low levels for such a brutal recession.

While long-term deficit spending is unsustainable Brown galvanised international support to spend out of recession and it made a big difference.

There is also a breathtaking minute-by-minute account of the run-up to the financial crisis where you sense events spiralling out of control after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Brown is scathing of the banks and their chief executives, who he says did not realise the scale of the problem.

When the Treasury calculated the banks would need a £50bn bailout some CEOs still claimed they just needed overnight finance and were reluctant to tie themselves to the government.

The former Prime Minister shares his initial concerns over the US Troubled Asset Relief Programme but praises it for recognising a systemic failure and a systemic solution.

Arguably, Brown’s bailout scheme has proved better at stabilising the system and fostering value for taxpayers.

There is plenty here that seeks to justify his time in office, including claims that the credit crunch took him totally by surprise.

He asserts that he was blissfully unaware of reckless lending and was misled by the Royal Bank of Scotland. You might think that when it was buying ABN Amro he may have raised an eyebrow but no, he says the now cartoon villain Sir Fred Goodwin outfoxed him.

After being at the heart of politics since the late 1980s and a key player in government for 13 years Brown’s fall from grace has been rapid.

But his understanding and experience of the economy and politics is invaluable for anyone trying to plot a successful future so it’s worth a read.

Review by Samuel Dale

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