Back in 2006 BBC journalist Nick Robinson reported that a high level Labour government politician had told him that “it would be an absolute effing disaster if Gordon Brown was PM.”
Three years later John Hutton outed himself as Robinson’s source but saying he had since changed his mind.
As far as the country and the Labour Party are concerned, Hutton was right the first time.
Fast forward to today and now as Lord Hutton, he is the man charged by the Coalition to protect taxpayers from what Chancellor George Osborne has called the “unsustainable” rise in the cost of public sector pensions.
The first fruits of Hutton’s “root and branch examination” arrive on Thursday when 750,000 public service workers strike closing thousands of schools and state-run services in a 24 hour walkout.
For them Hutton’s proposals mean paying more into their pensions while working for longer only to receive less when they retire.
There are no easy solutions to address the fact that – happily – we can expect to live much longer than just a few generations ago.
Like the old joke about car directions, you wouldn’t want to start from here. Hutton’s despair in 2006 was born of the barriers he saw the then Chancellor Gordon Brown put in the way of pension and welfare reform.
This was to be Prime Minister Tony Blair’s legacy – now he will be best remembered for the illegal invasion of Iraq.
Hutton was Work and Pensions minister at the time and a close ally of Blair. The two came together too late in the Blairite era to instigate the necessary changes.
Brown was already counting the seconds to Blair’s departure once the latter had secured his third General Election victory in May 2005.
Brown wasn’t about to make enemies with the unions which wouldn’t have helped his ambitions to take up residency at Number 10 Downing Street.
So like reshaping the NHS, Labour missed the chance to reform pensions before the UK economy turned sour. Changes could have been effected without the speed and ferocity the Coalition is proposing.