In the Brown Stuff
How rapid and comprehensive is Gordon Brown’s attempt to distance himself from Tony Blair’s legacy. But we know that when he says ‘mistakes were made’, what he really means is ‘we made mistakes.’ The very strong influence which Mr Brown demanded – and has exercised – over government for the last decade compromises his strenuous effort to disown the government’s failure.
Rarely before Brown has a Chancellor ranged so widely over government policy. From foreign affairs to health policy, he has issued ideas and direction throughout the Blair years, usually without the direct involvement of relevant ministers and often to the Prime Minister’s annoyance.
As a result, Brown has been the instrument of much of what’s gone wrong and the barrier to putting it right. Nowhere is this more true than in the public services. More rooted in orthodox Labour thinking than Blair, Brown is reported to have blocked radical reform early in the life of the government. He has certainly spent lavishly, but his case on public sector cost effectiveness and productivity is very unimpressive.
Brown’s strategy is clear – to push Labour to the ‘right’ on issues like Britishness (for which we should read Europe), geopolitics, and aspiration; and, simultaneously, to pull to the left on the Third World and disadvantage. As for environmental policy, he’s more ‘push me, pull you’ – heading in different directions at the same time. But he knows well that all of this will come to nothing unless he can detach himself from the public’s conclusion that New Labour has let them down.
By linking Labour’s misdemeanours to Blair, Gordon Brown hopes to escape punishment. Turning Queen’s evidence is risky enough when you are a mere accomplice, but when you planned and executed the job, as Brown has, you are likely to be judged very harshly indeed.
John Hayes is Co-Chairman of The Cornerstone Group