Now he's set to go, they want Brown back

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The Independent Online

They're a little tired and emotional at Westminster this weekend. But they should summon enough energy to be excited come Wednesday, especially as many speculate that this could be the last Budget Gordon Brown ever presents. After eight years in Number 11, the talk is that the Chancellor could be given an "offer he can't refuse" by Tony Blair - namely that he accepts a demotion to Foreign Secretary or faces the ultimate sanction, the sack.

They're a little tired and emotional at Westminster this weekend. But they should summon enough energy to be excited come Wednesday, especially as many speculate that this could be the last Budget Gordon Brown ever presents. After eight years in Number 11, the talk is that the Chancellor could be given an "offer he can't refuse" by Tony Blair - namely that he accepts a demotion to Foreign Secretary or faces the ultimate sanction, the sack.

But how will the markets react to this? A while ago, the City would have seen the departure of Mr Brown as a catastrophic event. He was the "Iron Chancellor", the best manager of the economy in recent history (ignoring the bloody good job done in a losing cause by Kenneth Clarke).

However, his conversion from prudence to being bountiful, which occurred in the 2001 Budget, changed many commentators' perceptions.

They worried about his spending plans, his estimates and his optimism. The fact that he met many of his wildest targets only had them saying he was lucky, and carping about his rewriting the rules (with some justification).

And in the past couple of years there has been a mutual cold-shouldering by the City and the Chancellor. The money men have taken to viewing Budgets and pre-Budget statements as non-events. He has taken to devoting more of his attention to dealing with poverty in the Third World or improving trade in China, so usurping the roles of the International Development and Trade and Industry Secretaries.

Yet as the potential departure of the Chancellor becomes an ever more likely prospect, the City is starting to fall in love with him again. Is it a case of "better the devil you know" or the typical hagiography you tend to get in obituaries? It seems more of the former, tinged with a fear of what might emerge from the Labour front bench.

It has always been said that there is no one within Labour with the stature to replace Gordon Brown.

The nearest thing to a safe pair of hands is Transport Secretary Alistair Darling, but he is not seen as close enough to the Prime Minister to get the job. The favourite in Westminster is Alan Milburn.

In the City, though, this would not be well received. He is seen as lacking experience and being too close to Tony. And the Chancellor's ability to stand up to the Prime Minister and give as good as he gets is clearly viewed as an asset in the City.

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