Testing times for Brown

At the CBI annual conference he had to stand up in front of one of the most hostile business audiences he has faced since the early days of the New Labour project back in the mid 1990s.

With talk of an inflation-busting rise for fire fighters in the air and Treasury ministers very much on the back foot over the question of whether the government has cut or raised business taxes in recent years, a rough ride was all but inevitable. But there was an element of pantomime to it all the same. And the hostile message was less about the past than the future.

Everyone expects the pay settlement that the fire fighters eventually secure to be significantly in excess of the rate of inflation. But the business community wants to make sure that the government – and the public at large – treats this as the exception not the rule. And no business leader believes that it has all been one-way traffic on tax – but they want to make absolutely sure it does not become so.

That’s why finance directors feel they can offer Brown their support currently. According to our survey of more than 400 FDs this week, two in three believe Brown is the right man to see us through the current economic uncertainties.

The next year will test the abilities of Brown and his advisers, though.

Insolvencies are rising, the housing bubble is set to burst and the vexed question of the euro will resurface with a vengeance.

If Brown is as popular among FDs this time next year, we should all be thankful.

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