Amid the din of war, listen out for the politician who keeps silent

If the war does cost us higher taxes, no one will fairly be able to blame Mr Brown for raising them

STOP A minute: pause amid the war talk and revelations of those hot internal divisions behind the cool New Labour facade. When politics is noisy it is worth listening out for those keeping the most eloquent silences.

The senior member of Government going about his business most smoothly and quietly these days is the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. His enemies may gloat that "Gordon hasn't had a war at all", meaning that he hasn't been on the television sounding statesmanlike. I see no sign that Gordon resents this. Chancellors do not warm to wars. They interfere with the accounting. Mr Brown's success in office has been the result of his ability to exploit relatively small room for manoeuvre and magnify the impact of the results by some nifty presentation,

So far, he has studiously avoided acknowledging that there is a war on at all. Early on, he remarked that the contingency fund of some pounds 1.2bn was covering the costs. But money gets spent a lot faster than this in a war - some pounds 60m from Britain so far. So the Treasury made a brief statement last week announcing that an "audit of war" was under way to check the running costs of the enterprise. This was so discreetly announced, with Mr Brown at a safe distance in Scotland, that it went unnoticed.

But the subject will soon be unavoidable. An unintentionally ironic point is made on the implications of the conflict by Maurice Saatchi's and Peter Warburton's pamphlet calling on the Tories to kneecap Peter Lilley and all the other born-again Big Spenders and opt for lower tax rates instead: "With the formation of a new government by the Liberals following the 1905 election came a change in the way taxation was viewed: from a means of supporting wars to a way of supporting the people."

Well, something has to give, to support the war effort, and raised taxes and/or heavy government borrowing are a distinct possibility. Some of those opposed to Britain fighting Slobodan Milosevic at all have been so carried away by their desire for the Government to fare ill that they are prophesying dire consequences for Mr Brown. On this view, his reputation as the Iron Chancellor will be undermined when the bills come in.

Mr Brown looks to me like a Chancellor who has prepared himself for just such a development. His very discretion about the war and its costs is the first plank in his survival strategy. By making clear that he is not a front-line political figure in this conflict, he is also ensuring that the blame for any financially unpleasant domestic consequences does not rest on him. If it does cost us higher taxes, no one will fairly be able to blame him for raising them. That event will be seen, for better or worse, to have been the result of Mr Blair's wholehearted engagement in the Balkans.

The outcome of the war remains uncertain, as is its aftermath in British politics. Mr Blair has so far looked like a confident leader, out-hawking some rather tentative American hawks. But a more difficult hour may come, If the outcome in Kosovo is an unstable fudge, the last thing the Prime Minister wants - or deserves, given his own robust stance - is to end up having to pass off a failure as a success.

Mr Brown, meanwhile, has consigned himself to a bloodless but more certainly glorious battlefield - the Scottish elections, where the only question is the margin of New Labour's victory. This is not the way things looked early this year when the Government drew up its plans for the scrap with the SNP and concluded that Donald Dewar desperately needed the help of another big hitter with appeal to the Scottish electorate. As I understand it, the Chancellor saw this as something of an onerous duty for someone of his seniority. In his darker moments he may have muttered something about these English modernisers being all very well in their place, but the Labour Party still needing its Scottish backbone when real challenges present themselves.

Yet the election has given Mr Brown the opportunity to pitch his tent firmly on the reassuring turf of Britishness, and to appear as an inclusive politician who incorporates both a distinctly Scottish and a United Kingdom identity.

He used his intellectual base, the John Smith Institute, to deliver a major speech on Britishness earlier this month. The association with the legacy of the late Labour leader, John Smith, is a sign that Mr Brown sees himself as the continuation of the moderate Labour tradition, as opposed to the conscious mould-breaking that Mr Blair embodies. It is a distinction that will doubtless be drawn again this summer when the fifth anniversary of Mr Smith's death is commemorated.

In Scotland, Mr Brown is free to indulge as much sentimentality about the memory of Mr Smith as he likes; it does no harm in the late Mr Smith's homeland, whereas the Blairites always feared that Mr Smith's old-fashioned aura and reluctant embrace of the middle classes were an electoral liability in the south of England. Never think that these old differences have ceased to matter. New Labour is shaped by the failures of the past, which means that it can never escape the memories.

None the less, Mr Brown mustered the magnanimity to ask his old feuding partner Peter Mandelson up to Glasgow to dispense some strategy advice for the final phase of the election campaign. In the laying bare of the 1997 rivalries at New Labour's court, Mr Brown emerges in the most enviable position of all his senior colleagues. Take the now famous chapter in Don Macintyre's biography in which Mr Mandelson leaves a planning meeting abruptly after a disagreement with the shadow Chancellor and offers his resignation as campaign manager. Mr Blair writes back, with half an eye on the political record, "We are not players in some Greek tragedy." Geoffrey Robinson, the kindly plutocrat, seeks to calm down Mr Mandelson over lunch, with singularly little success. All is flurry, spin and high emotion. What does Mr Brown do? Very little. You gain the impression of a rather stolid creature in the middle of all the fuss, imperviously getting on with the election.

This is an intriguing change from the more frequently peddled picture of Mr Brown as a tortured soul, unable to recover from having had the mantle of Labour leadership snatched from him by Mr Blair. Indeed, once Mr Mandelson became a minister, the Chancellor allowed his Treasury court to pursue the old feud by proxy. Minions fought a dirty war on both sides and Mr Mandelson was the ultimate victim. Perhaps the cathartic force of this outcome has brought both of them to their senses; perhaps the Chancellor is simply finding it easier to be well-adjusted when Mr Mandelson is down on his luck. But a certain peacefulness has descended on the turbulent heart of New Labour. You might almost think that the boys had grown up at last. On past evidence, we can only wonder how long the sanity will last.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London