For ten years, the chancellor has been a scowling shadow to Tony Blair’s obscene grin. Whatever the occasion, whatever the policy, Gordon Brown was frowning in the background.
Much has been made of the personal animus between Blair and Brown, and some have even mistaken it for a difference of principle.
Perhaps the strangest example of this was Roy Hattersley telling Guardian readers in 2000 that Brown was a “secret socialist” – so secret that no one can detect it, not even one of his greatest admirers, the former director of the CBI bosses’ organisation Digby Jones.
The feud between Brown and Blair emerges from a 1994 pact in which Brown agreed to withdraw from the Labour leadership contest if Blair accepted Brown’s “fairness agenda”.
That agenda turned out to involve a minimal minimum wage plus some modest tax credits and cash for public services.
It also meant tuition fees, privatisation, tax cuts for the rich, attacks on the disabled, together with an attempt to roll back state pensions.
Some of the results of this New Labour policy mix were announced last month. Inequality had risen and child poverty had increased by 100,000.
Brown’s recent crackdown on public sector wages is part of his strategy to restrain pay increases – for workers rather than bosses, of course. In 2002, he told firefighters demanding decent wages that there would be no return to the “bad old inflationary days” of the 1970s.
Yet the real cost of living has skyrocketed. At the same time, the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain increased by 20 percent in the last year – but Brown proposes no measures to tackle the extraordinary inflation in executive pay.
In fact Brown has a penchant for redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich – and running down public services in the process.
For example, he has proceeded with the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) despite findings by the Audit Commission that schools built under PFI are “significantly worse” than other schools in England and Wales.
The first new PFI hospitals contained on average 28 percent fewer beds and fewer staff. The government recently admitted that the cost to the NHS from PFI stood at £45 billion.
Brown has also indicated that he wants to keep the British flag flying. We should “celebrate” the British Empire, he says, along with “British values” such as “tolerance and liberty”.
That would be more impressive if it didn’t come from the government that had participated in torture flights, locked up thousands of innocent people, and launched a ferocious round of Muslim-baiting.
Brown has bankrolled all of Blair’s wars. In March 2003, he offered a “blank cheque” for war on Iraq. After Blair’s resignation announcement last year, Brown made his pitch for prime minister by visiting Basra in southern Iraq and insisting that the occupation would continue.
Brown has declared his fidelity to New Labour and promises a “home owning, share owning, asset owning, wealth owning democracy”. Translation – democracy will continue to be rented to the owners of the country.