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March 16, 2009

Rumours - Northern Rock: Jeremy Black asks, what did Gordon Brown know and when did he know it?

Posted by Jeremy Black

Crises bring forth rumours; indeed one sign of a crisis is an enhanced level of rumour and, in addition, a more frenetic type of rumour. John Roberts' book on The Mythology of the Secret Societies at the time of the French Revolution is particularly fruitful as an instance. Most rumours, of course, are unfounded, but some are not, while, for the historian, it is interesting to note the general thrust of rumour. I hope that the rumours of the present-day are being recorded, but legal issues probably makes this unlikely.

So here goes with a first for the list.
Source: a former member of the Northern Rock Board.

Rumour: The government was told the January before the crash that Northern Rock was in serious difficulties and might need help. Brown's political advisors, however, decided to do nothing because they thought that the resulting crisis would provide him with an opportunity to display leadership.

Verdict: Difficult to see how the source could gauge the reason for the response. Interest for the historian is what the crisis tells us about the degree to which ministers and their political advisors are distrusted, and assumed to be motivated primarily by a determination to look good. Such rumours are likely to gather pace, but it will be difficult to find archival sources to substantiate or contest them.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author - amongst much else - of The Slave Trade (2007), A Short History of Britain (2007), The Holocaust (2008), The Curse of History (2008), What If?: Counterfactualism and the Problem of History (2008) and War Since 1990.


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If she is not a crook, then she must work to convince the British populace that she is possessed of a naiveté that would be shocking in somebody who managed a set of public toilets, or she shares the contempt in which most of her peers hold the people they represent. Whichever way, she has not get out of jail card.

Posted by: Frugal Dougal at March 16, 2009 11:11 PM
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