Cabinet team and wisdom of Sir Tom

East Ham MP Steve Timms kicks of 2010 with a look back to an Autumn meeting with the man who brought us the information super highway. HAPPY New Year! I thought I would start 2010 with a spot of name dropping.  Sir Tim Berners Lee is the man who – worki

East Ham MP Steve Timms kicks of 2010 with a look back to an Autumn meeting with the man who brought us the information super highway.

HAPPY New Year! I thought I would start 2010 with a spot of name dropping.

Sir Tim Berners Lee is the man who - working in Geneva 20 years ago - invented the world wide web.

He has been helping the Government for the past few months, advising on placing Government data online, so that people can use it. In September, I took him to a meeting of the Cabinet, to explain his ideas to ministers.

I think Cabinet members were quite in awe of him - rightly, given the magnitude of his invention's impact on the world.

In discussion round the Cabinet table, the Justice Secretary Jack Straw made the point that meeting the man who invented the worldwide web is a bit like meeting the man who invented the wheel. And the Energy Secretary Ed Miliband piped up: "And what was he like, Jack?"

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The start of 2010 - election year - is an opportunity to reflect on how the Government has handled the economy over the past 18 months.

It has been the world's worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

What is really interesting is to compare the effect on jobs and families of the Tory recessions of the 1980s and 1990s - which were home-grown crises, not worldwide ones - with the recession we have just been through.

In the 1990s, home repossessions reached 75,000 per year. The Council of Mortgage Lenders forecast at the beginning of this year that there would be 75,000 repossessions again in 2009.

A few weeks ago, they cut that estimate by more than a third - to fewer than 50,000. Because the policy of protecting homeowners through the recession has worked, even though the recession has been more severe.

The Tory policy - of letting the recession take its course - would have led to far more repossessions, just as we saw in the 1990s.

In both the 1980s and 1990s recessions, the number of people claiming unemployment benefit reached three million.

I was in Newham in both those recessions, and I remember vividly the effect on our borough. Today the number is just over half that - and in the most recent figures it went down. That is because the Government's policies of supporting the economy and supporting jobs have been working.

We have not seen in this recession the big increase in long term unemployment of the 1980s and 1990s, nor the big rise in the number receiving sickness benefits. And the number of business failures has been running at about half what it was in the earlier recessions.

So Labour policies have worked much better than Tory ones in getting us through a recession. But, when the election comes, it will be the future people will be concerned about, not the past.

What people will want to know will be the parties' policies for the recovery ahead - given continuing uncertainties in the world economy - and how the Government deficit will be reduced. Those are the points I want to cover in my next column.

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