Magazine article The Spectator

Bogus Brown

Magazine article The Spectator

Bogus Brown

Article excerpt

Britain's hard-pressed taxpayers may finally be getting better value for their money, but not in the way they expected. They are now being promised two Gordon Browns for the price of one, just in time for next Wednesday's budget, courtesy of the Treasury's ever-inventive merchants of spin.

Both Gordons are said to live in No. 11 Downing Street and to be finding it a little too crowded; so after what is expected to be a bloody struggle, only one will be left standing to deliver the Labour government's ninth budget. It is a wholly fictitious narrative, of course; but nevertheless a typically clever one which has already duped most economic commentators and could end up handing Brown yet another propaganda victory.

In the battle of Gordon v. Gordon, the winner could be Prudent Brown, who we are told wants to stick rigidly to his tax and spending plans, determined not to take 'unnecessary risks' that would jeopardise Britain's 'hard-won economic stability' and the Chancellor's supposed commitment to building an internationally competitive economy; or it could be Political Brown, with a vote-winning budget packed with symbolic tax cuts and additional spending, stealing the Tories' thunder and saving Labour's bacon come May.

The two Gordons could, of course, still kiss and make up in time for budget day, a possibility hinted at by Ed Balls - the Chancellor's former economics adviser and still a close confidant - in a recent interview. A triumphant Chancellor would then use bumper tax receipts and much creative accounting to be both Prudent and Political at the same time. He could trim stamp duty and deliver a sprinkling of cash for pet projects, while loudly proclaiming victory in his quest to meet his spending rules. That the Chancellor pointedly denied he would ever take 'any risks with stability' at the Labour party's Scottish conference in Dundee last Sunday in no way rules out this course of action.

If one is prepared to believe this convenient thesis of the two Gordons, the Chancellor will emerge from budget day covered in glory whichever path he chooses. And given Brown's chutzpah and formidable ability at the Dispatch Box, combined with the fact that most political journalists can be counted on to be blinded by the science of the Treasury's numbers, however dodgy, the budget is indeed likely to be reported as a huge victory for the Chancellor and his prime ministerial ambitions, to the despair of both the Tories and Tony Blair.

The truth, however, is that Prudent Gordon and Political Gordon are like Tweedledee and Tweedledum: shorn of the rhetoric, their policies are almost completely indistinguishable. The alleged choice next Wednesday between prudence and a dash for votes is no more than a clever way of diverting attention from the real story: on offer in the budget will merely be more of the same big government, high-spending, meddling and prosperity-destroying policies that Brown has busily been implementing since he moved into No. 11 almost eight years ago.

Brown's only dilemma is whether he can get away with spending £522 billion or so of taxpayers' money next year; or only the £520.5 billion planned in the pre-budget report. Either way, that would be a huge increase on the £485.3 billion pencilled in for this year and last year's £453.6 billion. In an increasingly globalised economy, both choices are thoroughly imprudent and utterly political.

This will not prevent Brown from boasting about how accurate his forecasts have been. Thanks to rapid economic growth, the cash pouring into Brown's coffers has grown by 7. …

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