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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

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Who's pessimistic now?

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Wednesday, 6 May 2009 at 06:31 pm
Tricky mission this. Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson (a partnership that recalls the phrase about being chained to a lunatic, but which is which?) have a message today. Which is that the Government is skipping gaily through the cowslips, humming a happy tune and greeting the clouds and the sky, while the Opposition is pouring the poison of defeatism, pessimism and austerity into the ears of a gullible people.

It was what Brown said in his education speech yesterday, and what Mandelson said in his speech to the CBI this morning.


Some in politics are so pessimistic about Britain's prospects that they talk of the next decade only in terms of the politics of austerity and defeatism – and if their message is one of cutting back on our investment in the future, of course people feel our prospects will be worse.


We seem to be seeing a deliberate political or media ploy to move us from recognising how severe and painful the present recession is, to believing that we can never recover or be as strong again. That, indeed, the country is being run into the ground.

This attempt to make us feel worse about ourselves may have an understandable electoral motivation. But its effect, if we are not careful, will be felt beyond politics.

The trouble is that, for those of us with memories longer than a goldfish's, it was Brown and Alistair Darling that first said that the economic situation was so terrible ("the worst ... in 60 years") that it justified tearing up the golden rules and the norms of fiscal responsibility.