"THE Chancellor is above all the guardian of the people's money," said Gordon Brown during his Budget speech, and a ripple of titters went through the Opposition benches. Labour was beginning to parody itself. Now that Tony Blair, rather like a dog intent on leaving its mark on every post and pillar, had attached a "People's" to most of our national institutions or endeavours, it was unwise of Mr Brown to do the same to the Budget. Enough was enough.

At least he had a good precedent. Lloyd George called his redistributive Budget of 1909 the People's Budget, and was attacked for "introducing Socialism" through it.

In talking about "the people's money" Mr Brown could be said to be following a fine radical tradition. But Ll G was using the word before it had acquired its totalitarian overtones, before anyone had heard of the People's Republic of China or innocent East German citizens had felt the batons of the People's Police.

Auctioneers list worn or damaged lots "AF", for "as found". People's should have an AF after it. Mr Blair's use of it can be regarded as sinister. I like to think it's just naive.

In any case, there's some doubt about what the people means. At school we used to sing a ridiculous Victorian hymn that went "When wilt thou save the people?... Lord save the people, thine are they, Let them not pass like weeds away", and we were pretty sure we weren't singing about ourselves. But in its pristine days the people meant the entire nation, as its Latin ancestor populus had done, though the SPQR logo ("the Senate and People of Rome") suggested that it didn't necessarily include the best people. Or it meant the tribe, a meaning that survived in public schools whose pupils would ask each other. "Who are your people?" Now, depending on who's talking it can be the nation, or the electorate, or hoi polloi, the oppressed majority. I'm still not sure what our Tony means by it.