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CSR Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Locking Prudence in the cupboard
Chancellor Gordon Brown presenting his spending plans
Gordon Brown needed to lift Tony Blair's gloom
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

It was the day Gordon Brown finally locked Prudence in the broom cupboard and started splashing around the cash he has been hoarding under his mattress for the past three years.

In a statement that bore few real surprises, he threw money at just about at everything that moves or - in the case of the country's transport system - doesn't move.

And he effectively wrote an IOU to voters, asking them to back Labour at the next election on the promise of extra spending to come.

Much of the cash he earmarked will not come on stream for a couple of years or so - long after the expected date of the next poll.

But "giveaway Gordon" clearly believes the punters are still ready to put their trust in him.

He went back to basics by putting education at the top of the spending tree with an unprecedented planned increase.

And he promised more money for law and order, the NHS, defence and welfare - an extra spending total of 43bn.

It was a calculated attempt to win back the disillusioned heartland voters, put the government's "annus horribilis" behind it and set Labour on the road to a second election victory.

Election battleground

Many of the detailed spending announcements were left to individual ministers to reveal over the coming days - another calculated attempt to dominate the political agenda until the House of Commons rises in two weeks time.

And his statement clearly mapped out the battleground for the next election - between a Labour government that will spend and a Tory government that will cut.

But, by asking voters to trust him to deliver his promises, it was probably the biggest gamble the chancellor - a famously cautious man - has ever taken. And it remains to be seen whether he has pulled it off.

There were also signs in his statement that he has not had the spending review all his own way.

Many believe he would have preferred to have announced all the extra cash himself, but was forced to allow ministers to have their day in the sun.

That marks a victory for Tony Blair who was determined to ensure the chancellor - and would-be leader - did not take all the credit for the good news.

Never underspun

Mr Brown's statement was also intended to draw a line under the government's awful summer which has been marked with rows over cabinet splits and, most recently, its alleged reliance on spin rather than substance. But even the Iron Chancellor fluffed this one.

In a blunder that equalled Tony Blair's recent question time disaster against William Hague, he spoke about his desire to "underspin" his announcements - presumably he meant underpin.

That, combined with a less than riveting performance, should have handed the Tories an open goal.

But his shadow Michael Portillo - the man tipped as the next Tory prime minister - dramatically failed to rise to the occasion.

In a faltering voice that occasionally appeared to break into falsetto, he attempted to re-write the Tories' famous 1979 election poster "Labour isn't working" by declaring: "Labour spending isn't working."

But that was the best shot in his locker and things were only made worse when Speaker Betty Boothroyd referred to him as the leader of the opposition - perhaps she is planning a career in soothsaying when she retires later this year.

That is precisely the ambition Mr Portillo has been denying ever since he was re-elected to parliament for Kensington and Chelsea earlier this year.

Mr Hague laughed heartily at the Speaker's mistake - his merriment probably enhanced by the knowledge that, had he been in Mr Portillo's shoes rather than the other way around, Mr Brown would not have got off so lightly.

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18 Jul 00 | CSR
18 Jul 00 | CSR
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