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Tuesday, 24 March, 1998, 09:12 GMT
Dear Prudence ... Love Gordon.
Paul Rowley
By BBC Political correspondent Paul Rowley.

It was a 'prudent' Budget. I know, because Gordon Brown kept telling me. EIGHT times no less in just over an hour (Sadly, more than the six mentions than I had predicted in the sweep mischievously conducted by lobby correspondents at Westminster).

But it was also 'prudence with a purpose' (just two mentions). And the purpose was ... to win the next election. The delivery and language may have had the imprint of a dour Scot balancing the household finances. But there was the clear hand of the Prime Minister in what was a Downing Street co-production. Brown contributed the economics. Blair added the political nous.

Hence the pre-Budget suggestion that Gordon would don his outlaw hat to become a modern day 'Robin Hood' was wide of the mark. Admittedly he did give to the poor, albeit the 'working poor'. But the rich (or the middle-classes at least) escaped relatively lightly. Tony knows that the 'grand coalition' of 'switch voters' in Middle Britain (aspiring professionals, business risk-takers, dual-income home-owners) need to be reassured by any talk of 'old Labour' redistribution.

There was a highly moral tone to the package. One which Gordon may have learned from his dad, who was also a Minister, although his Ministry was in the Church of Scotland. 'Making work pay' and 'Those with an offer of work can have no excuse for staying at home on benefit' could just have easily come from the pulpit of the Reverend Brown thirty years ago.

Thrifty sobriety is also a family trait. Hence the Chancellor purposefully chose to be different from his predecessors in choosing not to have a tipple at the dispatch box. He did bring along some Highland Spring Water. But dutifully he chose to abstain. Dad would have approved.

Nonetheless there is a deliberate make-over job underway on this earnest high flier. At the weekend the boy who stood on the terraces watching Raith Rovers (or Raith Rovers Nil' as they're known in England) was taken to a real football match. In truth, after Tottenham's riveting 3-3 draw with Liverpool, the Budget was a bit of a let-down.

By Monday morning, he was on every broadsheet front-page looking everything he isn't. Casually dressed in a pullover and an open necked shirt (the first time ever by all accounts), he was pictured with the two components needed by any successful politician - a woman and a child. The woman was his girlfriend Sarah McAuley, tipped to be the new Mrs Brown sometime in 'the foreseeable future', to rework an old political phrase. The child was the son of his secretary, celebrating his third birthday. The man the Tories call 'Gordon Gloom' was even smiling !

It was a blatant attempt to lighten what's seen (wrongly, as it happens) as a dull image, and make him as punter-friendly as his Downing Street neighbour who beat him to the top job.

So do I expect wedding bells for Gordon, and possibly a little 'golden Brown' to follow ? Don't get over-excited. Remember this is a Chancellor. who remains cautious. And of course, prudent.

Links to more BUDGET NEWS stories are at the foot of the page.


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