There were howls of outrage earlier this year when it was revealed that a question on the scholarship exam for Eton, the UK’s top fee-paying school, had asked boys to imagine they were prime minister in 2040, a time of hypothetical economic crisis. They had to write a speech justifying their imaginary use of the army to put down pretend public unrest on Britain’s streets, shooting dead 25 invisible protesters. Labour and liberal-left commentators declared that this showed how Eton-educated ‘Tory toffs’, such as prime minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osbourne, were being trained in the ruthless arts of oppressing the people to protect the privileges of their class.
Strangely, there have been few such protests this week over revelations that five years ago a non-imaginary Labour prime minister discussed sending real troops on to British streets to crush public ‘anarchy’. As the financial crisis broke in October 2008, New Labour premier Gordon Brown (who was ‘trained’ at Kirkcaldy High School rather than Eton) reportedly told aides that he feared ‘the whole thing will just explode’ with ‘everyone’ looting and rioting, and that they must plan to use the military to restore order.
The furore at the Labour conference has focused on Damian McBride’s revelations of how the Brown team smeared its opponents in the party. That can surely only be ‘shocking’ to the politically naive or those, such as Labour leader Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, apparently suffering from severe (self-induced?) historical amnesia. The section of the book where Brown’s former spindoctor and fixer tells the story of how Labour discussed sending the Army on to the streets has attracted rather less attention. Which is a shame, because it does more than any intra-Labour gossip to reveal the true character of the self-styled ‘people’s party’.
McBride’s memoir, serialised in the Daily Mail, tells how the Labour prime minister was ‘totally gripped’ by what he perceived as the dangers of social unrest as the public panicked in response to the banking crisis of October 2008. ‘Even if there’s a panic in another country, people will see it on the TVs, and they’ll start panicking here’, Brown told McBride. Then things went from bad to much worse in the prime minister’s mind. ‘If the banks are shutting their doors, and the cashpoints aren’t working, and people go to Tesco and their cards aren’t being accepted, the whole thing will just explode’, he said.
The prime minister apparently prophesied doom. ‘If you can’t buy food or petrol or medicine for your kids, people will just start breaking the windows and helping themselves. And as soon as people see that on TV, that’s the end, because everyone will think that’s OK now, that’s just what we all have to do. It’ll be anarchy. That’s what could happen tomorrow. I’m serious, I’m serious.’