The people's Chancellor relishes his role

Budget Comment

Some people are released from power, falling with relief into private life. Others, a few, are released into office. Gordon Brown is one of them. He has been set free by having heavy responsibility loaded on to his shoulders. He has been freed from those years of political impotence; freed from blather; freed to act.

Our Chancellor is not a habitual public smiler. He was ordered to start smiling for the cameras some years ago and developed the alarming habit of baring his teeth in an automatic rictus that came, invariably, at inappropriate moments - so he'd talk about unemployment, and grin, or about mass poverty, and grin; and the effect was unsettling. Delivering his first Budget he barely smiled once. But yesterday, finally, you could tell he was really enjoying himself.

One phrase rang out. Mr Brown is not a flash orator - or a flash anything else. But ``the people's money'' was an eloquent touch. It reverberated. Brown's socialist past, the angry young man's impulse to equality, had vanished from view. His radicalism has been tempered by the study of global economics. He is the businessman's friend. But people don't change entirely, and in ``the people's money'' we saw a glimpse of the Chancellor's soul. He has endured enough taunts about apostasy. Now he is singing his own song.

The biggest question about New Labour has always been this: is it possible to be progressive while also running a successful national economy in the increasingly globalised economy? Don't you have to side with capital against (old) Labour? Or, in the context of a Budget, is it possible to have a ``people's Chancellor'' overseeing ``the people's money'' for the ``people's purposes''? Don't we live in an age driven by global capital forces, in front of which national politicians can only bend and groan?

Brown's answer is only now becoming fully clear. First, he says, you must have clarity and certainty, a climate which encourages investment. Then you can invest in your only truly national resource, people - apart from anything else, because your investors need well-trained people.

We have heard this stuff for years. But somehow it has seemed abstract and unconvincing until now, when the policy is made flesh. Consider, first, the number of Budget measures which Brown intends to last through the whole parliament - not simply the five-year deficit reduction programme, but the pledges on VAT and on duties, plans for green taxation, investment in education and for corporate investment (including that jaw-dropping cut in corporation tax). Add those to the clear regime for monetary policy established with the Bank of England, and you see a long-termer at work, who has read deeply in Labour's past mistakes - a man who expects to have his feet under the Treasury's great walnut table for years.

The underlying political argument is vivid: after years of flash Harry, triumphalist, quick buck, unreliable Tory Budgets, swooping the country from exhilarating boom to sickening bust and back again, we now have a plain man at work, calmly setting course for a new, more predictable national economics. If this is propaganda, it has clearly fooled the markets. But ``the people's Chancellor'' has also found money for the unemployed and schools, from the windfall tax, for single mothers, for the poor plagued by high fuel bills. I saw a rare expression of genuine relish on his face as he delivered those trophies to Labour's traditional constituency. In a global economy, it is still possible to do things differently.

Do we believe him? I think we do. Good political imagery depends on a convincing fit between the politician and the policy - at some primal level we have to feel that what the minister says and does reflects the minister's personality and make-up.

In this case, the fit is smooth. Brown, with his plain-suited seriousness, seems a man created to encourage sensible, sober, investment. He has ordered in the accountants to scan the national books. This is what one would expect from such a man. He is truly a living presbyterian rebuke to the velvet-jacketed faith healers.

And of course, there is a bit of propaganda in it all: Tory chancellors too have planned for the long term. Kenneth Clarke's final Budget was a model of responsibility and seriousness, with nary a flash of opportunism. Similarly, in the whipping out of extra funds for hospitals and schools, and the tax breaks for film-makers, Gordon Brown himself seems not wholly adverse to glitter and surprise.

Nor is it the case that the Conservatives have handed him the desperate financial problem Labour would have us believe. Taking the long view, they have immeasurably strengthened the economy. Before Brown spoke yesterday, I went back and read Denis Healey's last Budget, as the Seventies drew to a chaotic close.

The mood was grim, tinged with panic. The ``people's money'' was evaporating in value and the people's priorities were being shuffled down the agenda. Healey spoke in 1978 of the previous four years as being ``by far the most difficult since the war

But Healey's ability to deliver to the poor, to the Health Service and education, was nothing like Brown's power to do so yesterday. And that power has been enhanced by economic liberalisation, trade union reform, lower income tax rates and so on. The Chancellor has inherited problems; but not a crisis.

All that said, Brown's basic strategy of clarity and investment - both social and industrial - seems wise. William Hague did rather well for the Tories. But his ammunition dump of outrage and complaint was pitifully meagre and one's heart rather went out to him: he must suspect, like the rest of us, that the Chancellor has set a course which could, just could, give us years of stability and investment - and he has done it, so far, without betraying the popular promises Labour made during the election campaign.

These are, of course, very early days. Like many another chancellor, he has set off with optimism, convinced that he can master events and create a new economic order. He is intellectually clear and determined, which helps. But like many another chancellor, he may yet be blown off course. In the Treasury, sound judgement is never enough: he will need luck too. Let's wish him that.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Hard labour: a woman bears the load in a factory. But equal treatment is causing pension problems

Women to lose benefits from contracted-out pension scheme

Workers were promised that the state would pay inflation increases on parts of their pensions. But now the DWP disagrees
The Budget, says one critic, should have done more to encourage construction of affordable homes

Help for buyers but where are the homes?

A vote-winning Budget promised less tax, greater savings flexibility, and government handouts for first-time housebuyers
'It will be no wonder if people lack the enthusiasm to save taxfree,' says one expert. But there are ways to beat low rates on cash Isas

How to make the most of Isas: You can save more money now, the returns are tax-free and the rules are flexible

Rob Griffin sees how you can surmount the one big obstacle

Growing number of women under the age of 35 are turning to online gambling

Online gaming is changing the profile of victims, who see it as an answer to difficult relationships but sink deeper into trouble

Ethical investments: Lack of awareness means investors are supporting industries they oppose

Many of us have good intentions now but either we don't switch accounts or we back 'nasty' activities without realising
Payday lenders fail to recognise customers in financial difficulty, the FCA said

Payday lenders accused of unfair practices by watchdog

The Financial Conduct Authority found non-compliance in all reviewed firms

Hooray, you're going to live longer! But what should you do to celebrate?

Pension expert John Lawson talks on why improved longevity is something to plan for carefully

Pension freedom: Steve Webb answers your questions on the big shake-up

The new freedoms arrive in April but many of you have told us that you see problems as well as opportunities. The pensions minister Steve Webb responds
Pension Minister Steve Webb

There are 'dark corners' of the investment and pensions industry, says Pensions Minister

The DWP and the FCA have joined forces to investigate transaction charges in occupational pension schemes

Scottish Power was found to have unacceptably long call waiting times

Scottish Power hit with sales ban by regulator

The company was found to have unacceptably long call waiting times

This phoenix rose from the stage at the London Olympics. The insurer grew out of zombie life insurance funds

Phoenix Life: Chance of a refund for overcharged policyholders has risen

A retired adviser got his money back from the insurer after claiming he had been overcharged. Thousands of others may have a strong case
Expect a new wave of fishing expeditions by fraudsters now we can invest our life savings

Cold callers and your pension: watch out for dangerous boiler room scams

Sean O'Grady received a cold call last week that was much more sinister than normal. Yes, someone wants to get their hands on his pension...

Fuel poverty could claim 100,000 lives over next 15 years, warns energy charity

The NHS is currently bearing a yearly burden of approximately £1.5bn treating cold-related illnesses every winter

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

    Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

    Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

    £18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

    Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

    £35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss