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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Analysis: Brown's job gamble
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Labour leader Neil Kinnock once warned people if the Tories were elected they had better not fall ill or get old.

Whitehall back offices targeted
Today there are those warning that, under Gordon Brown, you had better not find yourself working in a back office in Whitehall.

The chancellor, it appears, seems set on closing down those wasteful places of work- whatever they are.

Mind you, if Labour is right, under the Tories nowadays you had better not be a nurse or a teacher.

Michael Howard's policies would inevitably lead to widescale cuts in front line services, they claim to loud Tory shrieks of "rubbish".

And this is the next general election battleground, set out in stark - if slightly disingenuous detail - by the parties in the Commons.

Lose jobs

Once again, as the parties have found their room for manoeuvre over the public finances becoming more limited by the day, they appear - not for the first time - to have come to the same conclusion.

Both Mr Brown and his Tory opposite number, Oliver Letwin, have determined the best way to meet their spending commitments is to cut waste, impose efficiencies and, bluntly, lose jobs.

Brown still looks to replace Blair
Liberal Democrat spokesman Vincent Cable declared it appears to be a choice between the Tories slash and burn and Labour's more cautious trim and singe.

Neither sounds particularly pleasant but, truth be told, there must remain some doubt as to precisely how all this slashing and cutting might actually play out in reality.

For the chancellor, he has to avoid getting a reputation as a creator of mass sackings, particularly if he is to maintain his pole position in the Labour leadership stakes.

The significance of that second consideration must not be played down, particularly at a time when the prime minister's future is once again the subject of widespread gossip.

And if the reaction of Labour backbenchers is anything to go by - and it is - he has done himself no damage in that area with another pledge to boost public services.

Best of it

Mr Letwin, on the other hand, has to persuade voters he really is not going to hit front line services as he attempts to make similar savings.

Politically, Mr Brown's job may look the easier. After all it is probably hard to find too many ordinary voters prepared to take to the barricades to save the jobs of civil servants.

Letwin accused of slash and burn
Particularly if it might mean threatening their public services.

It is something the unions will have quite a lot to say about, however, particularly as it comes on the heels of his budget pledges to slash Whitehall jobs.

And it remains to be seen whether it can actually be done - previous attempts by parties of both colours does not bode well on that front.

But traditionally it has been easier to suggest, rightly or wrongly, that the Tories want to cut public sector jobs and drive people into the arms of private provision.

So, once again, Gordon Brown appears to have got the best of it.

Big question

What most Labour MPs, businesses and - in this context far most important - voters want is reassurance that there will be more spending without tax rises.

Mr Brown's re-stated commitments on health and education and his new pledges on transport and law and order will very likely overshadow Whitehall job losses in these quarters.

So, once again, Mr Brown has shown how the outcome of the next general election lies to a very large extent in his hands.

In doing so, he has also cast himself as the man most equipped to lead the Labour party when that opportunity comes.

But will that opportunity present itself before the next election?

That, predictably, is still the big question rattling around Westminster in the aftermath of this final, pre-poll spending review.

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