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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 15:40 GMT
Brown's upbeat election message
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

If Labour wins a general election next May, Chancellor Gordon Brown has placed himself in a position where he would be able to claim "it was me wot won it".

Chancellor Gordon Brown
Brown said economy is safe in his hands
In what many immediately interpreted as a blatantly electioneering speech, he targeted just the groups the government needs to keep onside in that likely poll.

Families and children, pensioners, even drivers got some good news.

Middle England was reassured he had not, was not about to and never would break any of his self-imposed rules. Prudence and stability are still his best pals.

And he did his best to shoot another Tory fox by pulling a 1 billion cheque out of his red box to hand to local authorities so they have no excuse to levy big council tax rises.

The opposition parties do not believe a word of it, of course, and believe he will probably have to raise taxes after the election to plug his financial black hole.

Too canny

There is also the usual questioning of his statistics, particularly the all-important forecasts which some continue to believe are too optimistic.

But the chancellor was not content with suggesting, no matter how subtly, that he is the man holding the key to electoral success.

He also continued with the not-very-subliminal message he has been pushing for the past couple of years - that he had a specific vision of how he would run the country.

Peter Mandelson
Sideswipe at Peter Mandelson
It did not amount to the full-frontal alternative leader's speech some had been predicting, but he is probably too canny for that.

One message, however, was far from subliminal and served to fan the flames surrounding claims about the continuing and bitter battle between the Brownies and Blairites in the government.

In the clearest possible sideswipe at his old enemy, European Commissioner Peter Mandelson, he denied he was indulging in "exaggerated gloating" as Britain's man in Brussels had claimed.

Mr Brown was, he told MPs, simply telling it like it is.

Another sideswipe

And on the single currency he again said, thanks to his policies, he was well within the criteria for membership.

But he announced it with the words "for those who take an interest in these matters" - suggesting that he perhaps does not take such a great interest as some.

Another sideswipe at Peter Mandelson? Perhaps, but certainly a reminder of just what a different relationship a Brown administration would have with the EU.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
Blair Brown rift was back in the spotlight
And in any case, an attack on Mr Mandelson will, rightly or wrongly, always be interpreted by some in Westminster as an attack-once-removed on the prime minister.

Other than that it was very much a case of steady-as-she-goes boys.

The opposition parties were far from convinced, however.

Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin accused Mr Brown of glossing over his economic problems and having already broken his golden rule by borrowing to spend.

Tax rises under a third Labour government would be inevitable, he declared.

Own rules

And in what appeared an attempt to seize on the alleged split between the prime minister and the chancellor, he said: "Doesn't he feel a bit isolated.

"The tide is going out on the chancellor's credibility."

Liberal Democrat spokesman Vince Cable also ridiculed the chancellor's forecasts and the fact he made up his own rules, thus ensuring he could never break them.

As is so often the case, it will only be after the other parties have dissected the detail of this speech that they will come back with more considered assaults.

But Mr Brown's over-riding aim in this pre-election, pre-budget speech was to follow the recent Queen's speech setting out the government's planned future programme with a package that would also look to winning that poll.

And the effect of both these big government events has certainly been to harden belief that the poll will come next May.

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