Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Can Chancellor's Rhetoric Cover Up Failings of Project Gordon? COMMENTARY

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Can Chancellor's Rhetoric Cover Up Failings of Project Gordon? COMMENTARY

Article excerpt


TODAY Gordon Brown is pitching for the leadership by reinventing himself with rhetoric to conceal the flaws in his record - because the actual substance of his chancellorship is vulnerable to criticism.

Over the past decade, Brown has trusted just a handful of loyalists to champion "Project Gordon". Two weeks ago his most trusted adviser, Ed Balls, announced that the Treasury would introduce legislation to prevent the operation of the American Sarbanes-Oxley law - imposing expensive obligations on companies to prevent fraud - in Britain. Cynics in the Square Mile instantly suspected that Brown's and Balls's unexpected support was related to the peers-for-cash scandal.

In the next general election, Labour will need money from new sources.

To consummate the party's new bond with the City, 19 leading bankers and brokers have been invited to breakfast at 7.45am on 18 October.

According to Brown's schedule, at exactly 8.50 Sarah Brown will just happen to pass by the Downing Street dining room with her two children to say "Hi". After the visitors' cooing, Gordon Brown will hope to have won new supporters and vital funds for the Labour party .

Micromanaging his election as prime minister has been Brown's preoccupation for more than 20 years.

But he also relies on his cabal to protect him from detractors who threaten to embarrass him by exposing his succession of expensive mistakes.

Since 1997, the Treasury has been the rival centre of government to Blair.

After key civil servants were removed from the Treasury, Brown imposed his policies on every department. Last year, he began consolidating his hold over Whitehall's bureaucracy. His agent of change appears to be Gus O'Donnell: despite Blair's opposition, Brown engineered O'Donnell's promotion in August last year from his permanent secretary in the Treasury to Cabinet Secretary.

Since O'Donnell entered 10 Downing Street,he seems to have played a key role in the Brownisation of Whitehall. The cull, characterised by some as Year Zero, reflects the Brown loyalists' fears about "fifth columnists" among the bureaucrats. Senior directors in other departments suspectedof disloyalty have quietly retired. The recent fate of David Varney, chief executive of O2, recruited by Brown in 2004 to become chairman of the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise, illustrates the difficulties. On Brown's orders, Varney merged the two organisations, employing 98,000 people. The fault, common to many of Brown's initiatives, was the Chancellor's original refusal to assess how much money would be saved. The merger was expensive. It was also hindered by Brown's tax credit scheme. Despite repeated warnings that tax credits were vulnerable to malfunction and fraud, Brown ploughed ahead. …

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