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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Red Gordon's New Labour heart

Gordon Brown has always projected a rather old fashioned image.

In the age of sleek, anti-ideology New Labour frontbenchers, the chancellor has always had a whiff of the old socialist about him.

He can certainly turn on the leftish rhetoric when it suits him and he is one of the few frontbenchers genuinely at ease among trade unionists.

Chancellor Gordon Brown
Leftish rhetoric
His love of central planning, which will once again be at the heart of his spending review, adds to this image.

If he wants to encourage a growth in new house building, the creation of business parks and more airport runways, for example, that will have to be accompanied by more "flexible" planning regulations.

The government's record in such things suggests that will mean weakening the power of local authorities and increasing the influence of central government.

Spending plans

New Labour is already under attack for its centralising tendencies over health and education.


The more the new party gets into difficulty, the more the old instincts will reassert themselves

And don't let devolution muddy the water; few would accuse the government - which realistically means the powerful central force of Blair and Brown - of being one of the great diffusers of power.

And all this centralism just seems to sit more easily on Gordon Brown's shoulders than most other New Labourites.

Even his enthusiasm for three-year spending plans smacks of an instinct for central control.

Basks

You can imagine the dour chancellor standing at the despatch box announcing that collective farm number 123 is to be applauded for increasing its grain output and setting his next five-year plan for production.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown
The men at the centre
And, of course, he basks in this image.

He knows there is still a strong core of Old Labourism running through the party and, in some areas, even making a bit of a comeback.

The more the new party gets into difficulty, the more the old instincts will reassert themselves.

And he is ready and waiting to take advantage of that.

Gloss

His last budget confirmed him in many eyes as an old style tax-and-spend chancellor and he is still able to spit out socialist rhetoric when the occasion calls for it.


No doubt his spending review will still be hailed by many as further evidence of his Old Labour credentials

But it is, of course, just an occasionally convenient gloss.

He may hail from the John Smith, pro-union wing of the party, but it is far too soon to forget that he, along with his former best friends Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, created New Labour.

He is the man who gave independence to the Bank of England, has to all intents and purposes introduced a form of workfare into the benefits system, and who was responsible for the disastrous 75p pension increase.

Many of his previous budgets and spending programmes have been aimed at business and the City.

Labour credentials

And, while he may have introduced the minimum wage, he is also the man who decides its level.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair's job beckons
He has privatised things like air traffic control and is enthusiastic about the private finance initiative.

He is also being fingered as the man at least partly responsible for the current pensions crisis because of his post-1997 raid on the funds.

There is precious little old socialism, or any other sort of socialism, in any of that.

But, no doubt his spending review will still be hailed by many as further evidence of his Old Labour credentials.

Wowed

It's a neat trick and, of course, will do him no harm when the leadership seat finally falls vacant.

Probably his greatest achievement, however, is to manage - so far - to please just about everybody who counts.

He has wowed the City like no Labour chancellor before him and he is still the darling of the backbenches.

If he can keep this trick working there is no reason to believe he cannot once again emerge from his spending review with his reputation further enhanced.

The government's plans for future spending are published on 15 July

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