Friday, December 03, 2004

House Points

Here is this week's column from Liberal Democrat News.

Gordon Brown

Sometimes when I am paying for something by Switch and the confirmation takes a while to come through, I get the image of a dour Scotsman running his finger down the column of my spending and tutting. I now know who he is. He is Gordon Brown.

Because under him, the Treasury has colonised whole chunks of our national life. Pensions, health, education and transport have all fallen to it. Even affluent families find themselves caught in the net of his tax credits. You sense Brown would like the Treasury to have the final say on every spending decision – every holiday abroad or new pair of school shoes.

He has come a long way from the young firebrand who edited the Red Paper on Scotland in 1975. Then he wrote that “Eroding the power of the market is the forging ground for socialist progress” and went on to call for the nationalisation of just about every industry without compensation. He was particularly exercised by the plight of linoleum workers in Kirkcaldy, but the fact that their problem was that no one wanted to buy linoleum any more passed him by.

Yet in many ways the striking thing about Gordon Brown is how little he has changed. Through everything, his seriousness and belief in his own importance– what Andrew Roth has called his “mixture of Presbyterian doom and self-satisfied righteousness” – have remained undiminished.

So too has his wish to be prime minister. We know that Tony Blair is not keen on the idea, but none of the alternative candidates looks likely to last the pace. David Blunkett, by a particularly pleasing irony, has problems with nannies and every day reveals more of the unbearable lightness of Alan Milburn.

So if Labour does win the next general election it is overwhelmingly likely that we shall see Gordon Brown as prime minister. To some. a more overtly Labour administration is an appealing prospect, just as many Liberals started to see the virtues of old-fashioned, aristocratic Toryism after years of Mrs Thatcher.

But beware. Brown is a puritan, and when he talks about favouring “hard-working families” he means it. There is an essential cheerlessness about him – and about old Labour in general – that should remind us all why we joined the Liberal Democrats in the first place.

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