Mr Brown may want to be leader, but he must wait

`The Chancellor's authority, enhanced by the loss of his spin doctor, has never been greater'
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The Independent Culture
GORDON BROWN has never quite seemed to approach the job of Chancellor in the spirit of Winston Churchill. Appointed by Stanley Baldwin to the Treasury in the 1920s, an excited Churchill famously recalled wanting to ask "Can the bloody duck swim?" but, because of the formality of the conversation, contented himself with remarking that he would be "proud to serve you in this splendid office".

Whether because of Brown's brooding exterior or the claims of continuing hurt about the outcome of the 1994 Labour leadership contest, the Treasury, driven as its incumbent was to make a historic success of the job, has always appeared to be a consolation prize for his disappointed hopes.

It no longer seemed like that yesterday. Or, at least, the duck was visibly swimming. It was a consummately crafted speech, one of the best he has ever delivered to a party audience. In its first section it was full of merciless Tory-bashing, revelling in the triumph of having fulfilled predictions which were derided when they were made. It was remorselessly New Labour in its second half. He did not, as it happens, once use that phrase, abandoning the "New" in deference to his activist audience, though he did - once - mention a term he has long been thought to deride, "The Third Way".

But once captivated, the delegates were enlisted in his crusade for enterprise, markets, competitiveness, productivity, profits. And for individual responsibility. As the only member of the Cabinet who is entitled to break his own ordinance against spending commitments, he promised an extension of the New Deal for the unemployed. In so doing, the architect of the Government's driving work ethic was also making it clear that sanctions against those - especially the long-term unemployed - who refused the new opportunities would be more rigorously enforced.

These were not, he effortlessly explained, Tory values. Almost every aspect of the enterprise economy ambitiously described by Gordon Brown yesterday contains an assault on the old order; prices will fall as rip- off Britain is shamed by exposure; cartels will be broken to allow fair competition; banks will be pressured into a long termism which will replace speculation for its own sake; the fruits of share ownership will be spread among millions of employees rather than the utilities' fat cats.

But they were not old Labour values either. And that he was able not only to spell them out, but to enjoy himself as he did so, testifies to his increasingly settled standing as Chancellor of the Exchequer. His authority, enhanced rather than diminished by the loss of his pugnacious spin doctor Charlie Whelan, has never been greater. Which may help at once to explain and to put into context the previous 48 hours of media excitement about Mr Brown, the premiership, and the euro.

The first flutter can be dismissed pretty easily; it is scarcely credible that Blair would have contemplated leaving office in the middle of a second parliament - or that Brown would have thought that he would do so. Quitting while you're ahead is one thing. Quitting while you are not half way to completing the tasks you have set yourself is quite another. Today, Mr Blair will emphasise, in quite sombre and non-self-congratulatory terms, how much is still to be done. Nor does this remotely deny Brown the eventual chance of the premiership. Did Jim Callaghan, an older man, not succeed Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in 1976, some 13 years after Wilson became leader?

The second is much more real, though in so far as it can be pinned down, it is essentially tactical - at least at this stage. When Robin Cook and Peter Mandelson say - as they do in almost identical terms and without provoking any signs of annoyance from the Prime Minister - that inward investment is currently flowing because of a perception that Britain will go into the euro, and that if the perception ends so will much of the inward investment, they are saying something markedly different from the Chancellor without actually breaking with jointly agreed government policy. And it's the same when they say that Britain's long-term influence in Europe will depend, in the end, on euro entry.

Equally, Brown's much more buttoned-up assertion yesterday "that a successful single currency that met our five economic tests is in Britain's national interest" does not, it is asserted on his behalf, reflect any change towards the euro, but a belief that the next general election can be fought without making the euro one of the central issues of the campaign.

Several reasons are adduced for his determination not to go down the Mandelson-Cook road, which have little to do with his not exactly cordial personal relations with either. One is irritation at any idea that he is not fully in charge of EMU policy. Another is a scarcely dishonourable desire to ensure that the election is fought and won on the Government's economic record. And another is a chronic preoccupation with avoiding the kind of debilitating speculation about European monetary policy which dogged both the Thatcher and Major governments.

The alternative view remains that public opinion cannot be prepared for an EMU referendum shortly after a general election without the process being started now. Particularly since an entry decision might have to be contemplated without perfect convergence - in particular of interest rates - having been achieved, but when the circumstances are nevertheless never likely to be more propitious.

This is a big-picture tactical difference which will have to be resolved, but it is tactical nonetheless. On the more fundamental question of whether to go in or not, Mr Brown is said to have assured the Prime Minister that he has not changed his view. It's true that Mr Brown, who quoted FDR to some effect yesterday, is culturally more of an Atlanticist than a European. It's true that the Eurosceptic press would love him to be a champion of scepticism.

It's true that his chief economic adviser, Ed Balls, cast doubts - which Mr Brown did not - on the Maastricht criteria for EMU entry in a 1992 pamphlet. But it is still true that Mr Brown's long-term future is intimately bound up with the success of the Government of which has been such a motor. A government defeat in a referendum, or the failure of EMU post- referendum, still appears to be one of the less probable routes for him to assume the supreme office.

And that success has become the imperative of this conference. While allowing for the politician's natural hyperbole, it is a measure of what has been achieved so far that Mr Brown could speak of full employment yesterday - as he could not when he mentioned it two years ago - without provoking incredulity. In such a context, the Blair message today that Labour stands within grasp of a hegemony it has been denied throughout its last 100 years becomes, at last, credible. And on this Brown and Blair speak a single, identical message: don't blow it.

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