Just One More Heave: Gordon Brown's Budget Was Designed to Outmanoeuvre David Cameron, but Was Overshadowed by the Crisis Engulfing Tony Blair
Bright, Martin, New Statesman (1996)
David Cameron must be disappointed with the lack of a Tory revival in the polls and frustrated that he can't make more of the Labour loans scandal because his party is up to the same seedy tricks. As the Labour Party implodes, few seem keen to embrace Cameron's cuddly Conservatism. But the Tory leader should console himself with musing that Gordon Brown's tenth Budget would have been impossible without him.
The headline measures--a green tax on gas-guzzlers, a firm commitment to education reform and an extension of the private finance initiative in the health service--would have been impossible without the Tories. (Tellingly, however, the deeply controversial PFI measure was announced in a separate report, not on the floor of the House.)
It is hard to imagine that Brown would have bothered with the rise in road tax for 4x4s, had Cameron not banged the drum with such boyish alacrity on the environment, the Chancellor's most discernible blind spot. Surely Brown must know that [pounds sterling]210 a year will make absolutely no difference to someone who can afford to spend [pounds sterling]50,000 on a car? The [pounds sterling]26bn expansion of PFI, under which the private sector raises the money and runs public sector projects, is a sign that Brown has been roused by Tory claims that he is Labour's "roadblock to reform". The plan for 200 new projects published with the Budget should knock on the head any idea that the Treasury has "gone cold" on PFI. Even the increase in per-pupil spending on secondary schools to close the gap with the independent sector is intended as a direct challenge to the Tories, to say that Labour would not have spent the cash on tax cuts.
Cameron has proclaimed himself to be Blair's true heir, and he should be content that he has provided so much input into the Chancellor's plans. This Budget was billed as setting the stage for Brown's premiership. On the evidence here, his government would continue with the principles established under Blair, rather than setting out on a markedly new direction.
As the media furore over loans for peerages has exploded into a full-blown crisis, culminating in a police investigation into the sale of honours, it has been suggested that the Chancellor has been secretly delighted at Blair's misfortune. And yet, despite Cameron's claims to primogeniture, Brown knows that he is the only true heir to the new Labour legacy and he has nothing to gain from inheriting damaged goods. …