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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 15:18 GMT
A premier's pre-Budget report?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Gordon Brown's "latest" - for which most people read "last" - pre-Budget report was a classic of its type.

Chancellor Gordon Brown
Mr Brown left many guessing on future

It had been pretty comprehensively leaked so there were few surprises in the flurry of new or, more accurately in some instances, reheated measures.

It sought to address specific popular concerns on, for example, the environment (look out drivers and frequent fliers) and education.

And, more importantly than probably ever before, it attempted to show he really did have the "clunking fist" to floor his Tory opponents, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and leader David Cameron.

Lastly, just as record producer Phil Spector used to delight us with his wall of sound, so Mr Brown again deployed his wall of statistics.

It is a sort of stream of consciousness babble designed to paint a splatter picture of just how great the economy is or, for those with alternative views, obfuscate the true, less rosy picture.

So, Mr Brown confirmed extra investment on education and taunted the Tories with claims their plan to share the proceeds of growth between spending and tax cuts would mean they could not match him.

No rabbits

His opposite number suggested he was wise to the chancellor's little tricks and attempted to pick apart his statistics while also pointing out he had failed to mention rising unemployment or the "crisis" in the NHS.

But this clash was far more to do with Mr Brown securing his position as the inevitable force waiting to move into Downing Street than any attempt to pull rabbits out of his hat.

George Osborne
Mr Osborne taunted over leadership

Tony Blair sat alongside him with an expression that could be read either way - was it "that's my boy" or "oh well, there's no stopping him now"?

Mr Osborne attempted to get a rise out of him with jibes about his as yet unfulfilled ambition.

The chancellor, he said, was indeed green - because he had believed Tony Blair during that infamous Granita lunch when the premiership and his succession was allegedly stitched up.

It was fitting, he said, that Granita had been renamed Desperados.

Clearer hints

Mr Brown was not bothered. Indeed, for much of Mr Osborne's' pretty effective assault, he appeared not to be listening but chatting to those sitting around him.

And an entirely unscientific analysis of backbench Labour opinion seemed to suggest that Mr Brown really did not have anything to be bothered about.

It was hard not to gain the impression that the Labour backbenchers have now pretty much moved on from Tony Blair and are treating Mr Brown as prime minister in all but name.

What they did not get, however, was much of an idea of what a Brown government may be like.

It is the single biggest question occupying Labour MPs thoughts and many had been expecting some clearer hints.

But Mr Brown continues to play those cards close to his chest.

His announcement certainly looked forward to the years during which he might expect to be in control of the country but the big specifics will not come until next summer's comprehensive spending review.

For now, we are all just going to have to make do with the chancellor we already know - for good or bad.

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