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Brown Bottles



Nobody who knows Prime Minister Brown should be remotely surprised that he bottled out of calling a General Election.

Far from the tough image that the Government has tried to promote since Brown took over from Blair this Prime Minister has "previous" for running away when the going gets tough.

Let's be clear: Brown flew above the summer floods in a helicopter. Others, on the ground, did the dirty work.  The Foot and Mouth outbreak, arguably a direct result of Government policy, was not resolved by Brown (may not even yet have been resolved at all) and was announced prematurely "over" to meet political imperatives.  The Government chose to throw money at Northern Rock but knows that as a result of Brown's policies as Chancellor our financial institutions are in jeopardy and that personal borrowing has gone through the roof. And the postal strike that is doing so much damage to people and small businesses is the direct responsibility of Government as the major shareholder.  Where is Brown's firm and decisive guiding hand through this crisis?

But the Child Tax Credit Scheme was Brown`s personal creation and, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, his responsibility.  Yet on each and every occasion when the flaws in the Tax credits system were raised in Parliament Brown left it to his Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo, to take the heat.  Small wonder then that this Prime Minister sheltered behind the curtains in Downing Street and left it to a tame BBC reporter to make the "Prime Ministerial" statement indicating that the autumn election was very definitely off.

Back to the Tax Credits for which Prime Minister Brown must carry the can.  In a truly scathing report "Getting it Wrong?",  published last week the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, has ripped aspects of the Tax Credit system to shreds and made it plain that, as I have been saying for a couple of years, it is causing real distress and hardship. “Tax credits are supposed to help families" she says "not cause them money worries".
Most particularly, the awful "Code of Practice 26" which allows Revenue and Customs to say that "We were wrong but you should have known that we were wrong so we are right and you are wrong and you must repay your money" comes in for criticism.

Was the Ombudsman`s report referred to in Chancellor Darling's Autumn statement?  No. It was not.  In a Pre-Budget that will take money from pensioners and place huge increases in taxation upon families there was not one word of apology to the more than 300,000 families still waiting to have their tax credit situations fully, fairly and properly resolved.

Some forty of those outstanding cases are my constituents.  I believe that all demands for repayments, should, except in cases of obvious fraud, be written off while the new Chairman of revenue and Customs and the new Chancellor of the Exchequer create a system that works and sort out once and for all the mess created by the man who, when the crunch came over the election speculation that he himself had allowed to run riot, lost his bottle.

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