Magazine article The Spectator

Amid All the Plots and Letter Campaigns, Brown Quietly Plans His Future

Magazine article The Spectator

Amid All the Plots and Letter Campaigns, Brown Quietly Plans His Future

Article excerpt

Anyone who knows Gordon Brown will know that his disappearance from the public scene this summer had multiple reasons. Foremost was his desire to dote on his new son, which he did with his characteristic energy and passion.

Add to this new doting the continued doting on son John, and you have what for ordinary mortals would be a full summer's activity.

But there was more. The Chancellor always uses the summer to rebuild his intellectual capital. There aren't many politicians who would trade weeks of lolling on the beach for days with biographies of Andrew Carnegie, a reading of Gertrude Himmelfarb's comparison of the British (Brown prefers Scottish) Enlightenment with the bloodier French version, and a tenth (or is it 20th? ) rereading of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. But Brown is one such.

A third reason for the summer hibernation was less grand: Brown's Macavity ploy.

Out of sight, out of mind. Let Tony Blair take the heat for the chaos in Iraq. Let David Cameron stumble into an embrace with the hoodie lobby. Let John Prescott be saddled with his cowboy boots. And let John Reid enrage crime-ridden Britons with a plan for the early release of criminals to ease the prison crowding brought on by youknow-who's refusal to fund the construction of new housing for unwilling guests of Her Majesty. Better to frolic with John, cuddle Fraser, and curl up with a good book - and return to the fray emotionally relaxed, physically rested, and with his intellectual batteries recharged.

But even on top form, now that he's back, Brown faces some very hard choices. The famous baseball player and armchair philosopher Yogi Berra once said, 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it.' That might have worked for a Yankee catcher, but it won't work for a Chancellor whose principal claim on No. 10 is that he has a clear vision of the path down which he wants to take Britain - what friends call Gordon's 2020 vision. Politics is about choices, and the Iron Chancellor, he of the burgeoning deficits, soaring public spending and bloated public sector, will have to make the toughest of all - between his heart and his head.

In No. 10, his heart and history will call him to take the road headed for tax increases and an expanded state. They will whisper to him that already-well-off pensioners do not require the state's help in their declining years, and that he should devote available resources to the poorer elderly by meanstesting every benefit within his gift. They will urge him to convert the rich into involuntary versions of his hero, Andrew Carnegie, who off his own bat devoted his fortune to public purposes. In short, the prong of the fork marked high taxes, redistribution, meanstesting and a bigger, more controlling state will tug at his heartstrings. And that tug will be made all the stronger by the sense of moral purpose that is an important consequence of his upbringing and history.

The other prong will beckon him in the opposite direction, and appeal to his head.

The famously cerebral Chancellor knows that America's increasing lead over Europe in the productivity race is due to the low taxes that encourage hard work and risk-taking. He knows, too, that his elaborate means-tested benefits discourage savings, and that his various programmes to urge young people into work have not yielded benefits in line with their costs.

The empirically minded Chancellor almost certainly knows, too, that the nation has not received value for the money poured into the health service. …

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