Magazine article The Spectator

Blair Is Right about One Thing - Brown Would Make an Impossible Prime Minister

Magazine article The Spectator

Blair Is Right about One Thing - Brown Would Make an Impossible Prime Minister

Article excerpt

Gordon Brown's defects are under scrutiny. His critics identify petulance, vanity and vaulting ambition. Much of Westminster, including many Labour MPs, several Cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister, now agrees with Alastair Campbell that Mr Brown is psychologically flawed. But this is a serious underestimate, both of his strengths and of his weaknesses. He is more accurately described in another phrase of Mr Campbell's: 'An out-of-control colossus.'

Gordon Brown's intellectual self-confidence is certainly colossal. This is a man who believes that he is not only a practical politician but the most important political theorist of our times. He thinks that he has created a new socialism, based on a new theory of the state and of the relationship between economic management and society.

This is also a man who believes he can run everything. Since he became Chancellor, he has doubled the size of the Treasury. He has also doubled the size of Tolley's Tax Guide, the tax accountants' handbook. In his latest manifesto, published in the Guardian recently, he declared his intention of taking over family policy. If he has his way, there will soon be an equivalent of Tolley for parents, and almost as long. This is a man who believes in control, exercised by him. He has modified the instruction for army recruits 'if it moves, salute it; if it doesn't move, polish it' - into 'whatever it is doing, regulate it'. As a result, we have a tax and benefits system of mind-breaking complexity.

There is an irony. Gordon Brown insists that he admires America and that Europe has much to learn from the American economic model. This is extraordinary. No one has so misunderstood the country he purports to admire since Major Thompson. The American model is simple, and would be even more so were it not for the influence of liberals and litigators, which George Bush has not done nearly enough to curb. It is based on one natural advantage and four principles. The natural advantage is abundant land, therefore low housing costs. The principles are: a small state, a federal income tax that barely affects the low paid, minimal welfare provision and a hire-and-fire labour market.

That may explain why Gordon Brown cannot understand America. It is not that he is like the French, repelled by the brutality. He is baffled by the simplicity. This obsession with minutiae and control explains the Chancellor's growing lack of enthusiasm for Europe. He believes that the day will come when he does control every aspect of British life, so that no one would think of starting a business or a job or even a family without consulting him. But he knows that he would never be able to run Europe in such a way, and that Europe would indeed challenge his power over British life. It is not Europe's failure to follow the American model which has disillusioned him. It is the knowledge that Europe would never follow the Brown model.

Wise Europe. The Brown model has already cost the UK an extra £171 million a year in public spending, which is more than 50 per cent higher than in 1997. Does anyone think that they are receiving a 5 per cent better service from the state for all that extra money? How many people even feel that it is half a per cent better?

The Colossus has wasted money on a colossal scale. David James, the company doctor commissioned by the Tories to examine government waste, has now identified around £40 billion of relatively straightforward cuts, almost all of them from bureaucracies established since 1997 by Gordon Brown. There has been an enormous transfer of money from the productive sectors of the economy to the unproductive ones. …

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