It's the rich that get richer under Gordon Brown

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The Independent Culture
BUSINESS PEOPLE AT the CBI conference must feel like one of those women in westerns who sing in the bar. Every passing stranger falls in love with them, each making increasingly extravagant offers to run away with them for ever.

Hague offers even more tax cuts, but then Brown trumps him with pounds 100,000 each in tax-free share options. If a director of Unilever had sat on Brown's lap, dipping a furry scarf in his whisky and sticking his chest in the Chancellor's face, he could have ended up with a ranch in Virginia and a 200-cattle tax-break.

And this was a party that promised to "put a stop to the fat-cat culture". I wonder whether they're using similar methods to fulfil their other promises. The crackdown on crime will be Jack Straw making a speech at the burglars' conference, saying that if he catches any of them at it, he'll help them carry out the stereo.

How does this share-option thing fit into "for the many, not the few"? Brown will probably argue that it will bridge the gap between rich and poor. "See, by enabling the rich to become richer, we're providing them with the opportunity to be so rich that they may give some of it to the poor. Obviously this money has to come from somewhere, so the only prudent place to take it from is the poor. So everybody wins."

Or maybe it's just that Blair and Brown spend so much time with Murdoch and Lord Ayling that they think businessmen with only a couple of million in the bank are the poor.

"Do you know, Gordon," Blair must fret, "there are some executives who only have one home. How do they manage? If they fancy nipping away for a month's break, I suppose they must go and sell the Big Issue in Tuscany."

The language Brown uses to defend this measure is identical to the language of Thatcher in her prime. The pounds 100,000 will "encourage enterprise for all". Though it won't be quite "all", as the theory doesn't seem to apply at the other end of the social scale.

If they believe this, New Labour should try an experiment. Single parents and disabled people on benefits should be offered pounds 100,000 in share options if they start work. And businessmen should be called in once a week to a tatty office, while a civil servant slowly examines their file, occasionally asking where they were last Tuesday. If they weren't in the office or with clients, the clerk should say, "well, you weren't available for securing contracts", cut off their salary, and send them to an interview for a job delivering leaflets for Pizza Hut.

Brown added that schemes such as the one he announced yesterday would "encourage risk-takers". Sure they will. Railtrack, for example.

And he even said that in the field of enterprise culture "we must go beyond what was achieved in the Eighties". Beyond! Achieved! So that was the problem with the Eighties: too much soppy, liberal caring. This is like Kevin Keegan saying "we must go beyond the achievements of Glenn Hoddle, and have three faith-healers, one of them in goal".

Stunts such as the share options leave some people confused. They can understand why New Labour appeared so business-friendly before the election. But the cost of this exercise will be pounds 40m. Surely even Blair and Brown can't think that giving money to business people, at the same time as every New-Labour-tron robotically repeats the prudence mantra, can be a vote-winner.

It becomes more evident each day that New Labour is anything but a populist trick, responding to whatever focus groups tell it, in order to stay in power. It's as ideological as the Thatcherism it wishes to go beyond. It believes in rewarding the rich at the expense of the poor, but that this can be achieved more efficiently if it isn't tied so firmly to fox- hunting, Pinochet and screaming like an old market trader about the French. Some people see Blair's hand-wringing and concerned expression, and conclude that New Labour is Thatcherism with a human face. If only. It would be more accurate to describe it as Thatcherism with a human excuse.

Perhaps this explains Hague's speech, in which he said that we should now ban French pork because of the way the French treat their pigs. As if a) animal rights had ever been a major concern of the Conservative Party and b) English farmers kept pigs in charming bed and breakfasts with en suite bath and shower. At first it seemed that the speech was just an excuse to bash the French, and he'd follow it up by saying, "and we must ban garlic. Have you seen how tightly the Frogs pack those poor little things together, sometimes nine cloves in a single bulb".

But following Brown's performance, it's obvious why the Tories are doing their best to appear like lunatics. They're thinking, "With this lot, we get most of our policies through - and we get a lie-in."