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How Gordon wrote off Third World debt

The war between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is one of those rare political sagas of our times that simultaneously entertain, inform and instruct. It put the naked political ambition at the centre of a narrative that was perhaps always about economics. Dipankar De Sarkar reports.

world Updated: Jul 04, 2011 23:08 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

The war between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is one of those rare political sagas of our times that simultaneously entertain, inform and instruct. It put the naked political ambition at the centre of a narrative that was perhaps always about economics.

The complex question of whether their particular politics is partly to blame for the subsequent financial turmoil awaits untangling. In the meantime, there's more from the TB-GB story.

Brown's Tory opponents unfailingly blame Britain's massive budget deficit, which fell from £18.5 billion last year to £ 17.4b last month, on his soft touch regulation. It now emerges that Blair, whose party considered Brown to be Britain's finest post-war finance minister, too thought he was reckless with money.

One proud moment for Labour supporters came in 1999, when Brown unilaterally cancelled the bilateral debts owed to Britain by some of the poorest countries of the world. But Alistair Campbell, who was Blair's media manager supreme, has this to say in his new volume of diaries:

"TB was livid that GB, without any consultation at all, wrote off third world debt - £155m over 10 years - while telling us he could do nothing for the NHS (national health service) to pre-empt a winter crisis…. TB said, I think for the first time, even to me, that he sometimes wondered if we might be better off without him. The problem was there was nobody else who had his mix of ability, real strength, and reach into the party…"

The next day: "TB said he had spoken to GB re third world debt. Asked why he did it in the way that he did, GB said "Because you asked me to." "When?" "Six months ago." We were able to laugh about it because he had in the end done what we wanted him to but it was a very odd way to do it."

In 2005, Brown helped craft a groundbreaking offer from the world's richest nations for 100% debt relief to those poor countries that completed a reforms programme agreed with the IMF. In 2010, 28 countries had completed their programmes and 12 more were in the process.

It's no wonder that in much of Africa, there is a very different perception of the TB-GB era.