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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Brown's balancing act
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Gordon Brown
What are the campaign dilemmas for Mr Brown?

We haven't heard from her for a while - but Prudence is back.

Gordon Brown - once famous for his insistence on pursuing a prudent economic strategy - has now deployed the same promise in his leadership campaign.

The chancellor seems to believe voters will welcome his steady, solid image, particularly when combined with reassuring noises on policy suggesting that, while he will be significantly different from Tony Blair, there is no need to fear anything too unsettling.

So, as he enters his first full week of campaigning, he is offering a distinctive policy platform accompanied by soothing talk that he hopes, unlike his possible left-wing challengers, will not spook the public.

Everything Gordon Brown says seems to be his genuine belief
Matthew Dunn, Newcastle-Under-Lyme

Old Labour is dead, never to be revisited. As he told would-be challengers Michael Meacher and John McDonnell, he would not return to the election-losing policies of the past.

However, while offering that steady hand, Mr Brown is also starting to flesh out his manifesto.

Ambitious plans

On the policy front, he has attempted to out-bid David Cameron on a couple of the big issues the Tory leader is attempting to take ownership of.

Specifically, Mr Cameron has been pushing the environment and green issues and, more recently, claimed tackling the housing crisis would be one of his priorities.

So Mr Brown is attempting to pip him to the post by announcing proposals to create five new eco-towns across Britain, killing two birds with one stone as it were.

Michael Meacher, John  McDonnell and Gordon Brown
Mr Brown pledged no return to old policies
He has also hinted at ambitious plans to create thousands more social - housing association - homes every year.

He insisted the proposals go further than those announced by ministers last year, although the Conservatives disagreed and called it a case of "same old Labour, same old spin".

Either way, the whole subject illustrates a problem for both Mr Brown and Mr Cameron in the two years or so until the next general election.

Do they announce policies now which can then be either torn to shreds or cannibalised by their opponent, or do they play their cards closer to their chests in an attempt to look fresh at that election?

Open government

Mr Brown is naturally cautious and may well be tempted to hold back. But he also knows he has to win this particular contest now, just as much as in two years' time when it might just be too late.

So he needs, during this campaign, to indicate some big policy areas marking a change from the Blair years and putting clear water between Labour and the Tories, without necessarily being too specific or frightening.

Perhaps the most symbolically important of his pledges so far has been to create a new, more open and transparent style of government.

In the wake of the allegations of spin, sleaze, presentation-over-substance, burying bad news and cash-for-honours that have dogged Tony Blair, he is talking about some radical constitutional shifts.

The Dome
Mr Brown admitted Dome was a mistake
He has already promised to give MPs a vote over whether Britain should go to war, but he wants to go further giving them a say over key public appointments and policing a new ministerial code of conduct.

He has also indicated he is thinking about creating a written British constitution for the first time.

And he has suggested a period of consultation on proposed new laws before the annual Queen's Speech sets out the government's programme - in the same way that the pre-Budget report does before the Budget.

Sleepless nights

He has hinted that he wants to give the NHS more local autonomy - albeit apparently falling short of suggestions he wanted to give it full independence from government.

He is clearly trying to stress his willingness to listen to voters' concerns and learn from past mistakes.

Pushed as to what mistakes he meant he picked out the obvious one of the Dome, which he had little to do with, and the 75p rise in pensions that landed him with a major backlash in 1999. That, he said, could have been "handled" better.

He also mentioned the use of local petitions amongst measures aimed at giving voters a stake in politics.

There will be those, of course, who will claim we have heard all this talk of openness, transparency and the end of spin many times before and will remain to be convinced on that as well as the policy front.

Mr Brown's task is to present his more solid image while unveiling new, attractive policies to win over those sceptics without denying himself the chance of springing a surprise or two when he finally gets the top job.

And he has got to keep all this going for six more weeks.

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