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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Sell it with flowers: competition is 'intense' for homes with outside spaces

Gardens add a tenth to the value of your home

A London estate agent yesterday put a price on having a garden. David Pollock of Greene & Co reckons it can increase a property's value by a tenth.

Spectators at the Isle of Wight music festival watch the World Cup on the big screen. Betting promotions were a feature of the tournament
Lenders have been accused of persuading vulnerable people to borrow expensive credit

Payday loan firms accused of bombarding vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls

Payday loan firms have been accused of bombarding financially vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls, after a debt charity reported that a third of its clients were plagued by the messages.

The foundation proposed that the Government sets up a scheme to help people avoid losing their homes

Mortgages: 'Homeowners could trade down to shared ownership to defuse rate rise timebomb'

A plan to defuse a “mortgage debt timebomb” when interest rates rise is published today amid warnings that 2.3m households could struggle with their repayments.

Current accounts are too costly and confusing, says CMA as it announces investigation into Britain's biggest banks

Competition regulator to investigate market where it's hard for customers to make comparisons and the big banks' charges can be set too high
All the signs have been pointing up for buy-to-let, but there are clouds on the horizon

Buy-to-let: is it a boom or a bubble fit to burst?

People borrowing to be landlords could face the same restrictions as homebuyers, with MPs voicing fears that property speculation may be overheating the market

Moment of truth for payday lenders: Watchdog plans to curb cost of short-term loans

The chief of the City watchdog, Martin Wheatley, spoke exclusively to The Independent's Simon Read about its attempts to control the worst excesses of unscrupulous high-cost credit companies

Consumers given power to choose a green deal

How would you like to be able to choose how your electricity is made and even where it come from? It may sound futuristic and fanciful but the independent supplier Co-operative Energy has made it a reality this week.

'Scrap the trap': calls for change grow as banks are told to play fair with loyal savers

City regulator says existing customers suffer worst rates

Motor insurers divided on proposals for whiplash ban

MPs want medical evidence for claims. Will this bring higher premiums?

British Gas repays £1m for mis-sold deals

British Gas was yesterday forced to pay back £1m to its customers after mis-selling them energy deals.

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

    Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

    HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

    £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

    PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

    HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

    £30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on