Sean O'Grady: You are what you drive, Mr Brown

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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's all very well for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go around wanting to solve global poverty, reform the European economy and lead Britain into a fairer, more socially just future, but does he really have to do it from the back seat of a Peugeot 607?

If you saw Gordon Brown at the G7 finance ministers' summit recently, popping out of the back of this barge, you oughtn't have been surprised at this choice of Chancellorial transport. You see, in doing so he's sending out a small, but important political signal, as he has been doing for some time.

For a long time he went around in a Vauxhall Omega, a suitably downmarket and smaller alternative to the Jaguar XJ limo that someone of his stature is entitled to, the car of choice for Tony Blair. Mr Brown's media advisers have clearly chosen to contrast his down to earth, thrifty, ways with the status-conscious and vainglorious Prime Minister. Mr Brown stepping out of his modest Vauxhall sends a message that he isn't interested in baubles and the trappings of power, grandstanding on the global stage, playing mini-me to George Bush, like you-know-who. No; the Chancellor is interested in substance. Now that they don't make the Omega any more Mr Brown had to have another non-prestige badge.

OK then, but why does it have to be a Peugeot 607? When was the last time you saw one of these gawky, lumps? Peugeot has never got the hang of making their big cars remotely desirable. Hence, I suppose Mr Brown's perverse interest. I imagine Mr Brown also wanted to show us that he supports liberalised national procurement. But the Peugeot 607, like its Renault Vel Satis compatriot, exists for the sole purpose of providing something grand and gallic for French politicians to swank around in. Chauvinism would never allow anything else, just as the Scandinavians have to have a Volvo or Saab, the Italians a Lancia or Alfa, the Americans a Cadillac (for Republican presidents) or Lincoln (for Democrats), the Czechs a Skoda and so on. In Germany it is so extreme that Gerhard Schröder uses as a VW Phaeton rather than the traditional Mercedes because VW is headquartered in his home state. The Prime Minister of Malaysia proudly travels in a stretched Proton.

All politicos, in other words, tacitly abandon all the guff they pump out about non-nationalistic procurement when it comes to their own wheels. Except, it would seem, Britain.

All such a pity when the UK is home to two of the finest options for stately transport that money can buy; the Jaguar and the Rover. Executives at MG Rover, as if they haven't enough problems to deal with, chew the carpet when you ask them about public support for their products. They ask, in a New Labour phrase, for "fairness not favours", and they get nowt. I even read that one police authority refused to buy British Rovers because it might have been considered offensive to some.

Don't forget that this is taxpayers' money, and while Brussels jumps on any attempt to subsidies carmakers, it seems curiously inert when it comes to this business about official cars.

So what is to be done?

Well, for a start Mr Blair could start to use that Rover 75 long wheel base limousine that is apparently now on his fleet a bit more. Prince Charles could drop his Audi. Mr Brown could opt for a Rover 45 if he's worried about appearing ostentatious. The booted version looks best, I always think, in silver, perhaps. Every other minister should travel in a British-made car such as a Rover, or failing that, a Toyota Avensis, or, at a pinch a Honda Civic. And when Mr Brown finally makes it to No 10 he should ditch his Scottish Puritanism and treat himself to a Bentley Arnage.

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