Comment: It's a great job Gordon, so get on and make the most of it

a lesson for number 11

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When Tony Blair was quoted this week as saying fulsomely that Gordon Brown is "my Lloyd George" he seemed to be drawing a resonant as well as a flattering parallel. There are quite close similarities. Asquith was the socially privileged Englishman, his Chancellor of the Exchequer the upwardly mobile Celt. Lloyd George had a more left-wing background than Asquith, was an instinctive devolutionist, was a hugely imaginative social and economic reformer, had more empathy with the party's grassroots than his boss, was outstandingly ambitious, and produced his own "People's Budget". He even co-operated closely with an openly partisan biography which was written during his Chancellorship.

But to get back on to anything like the trajectory which Lloyd George maintained - despite the setbacks - through most of Asquith's premiership before succeeding him, Gordon Brown now needs to do quite a lot of work. The prevailing view, even among some of the Chancellor's friends, is that he has been damaged by his closest allies' decision to publicise his view that he could, and perhaps should, have been, Labour's first prime minister for 18 years. They did so apparently with the intention of making him an even stronger figure, if that were possible, than he was already. But while the ebb and flow of strength in politics is a mysterious, imperceptible motion, it has not gone Brown's way in the past fortnight.

Personally, Tony Blair may have thought his lieutenants went too far by briefing at least one Sunday newspaper that he thought his Chancellor had "psychological flaws". But for several Cabinet colleagues, including some of the most prominent, it was a rather welcome development. First, because they reasoned that if there had been no retaliation at all it would have shown that he was somehow untouchable, whatever he did. And second, in all frankness, because revenge, especially if it is exacted vicariously, is sweet.

Most of the publicity surrounding the STV film of Brown's first days at the Treasury dwelt on the enormous influence his press officer Charlie Whelan and his young economic adviser Ed Balls have wielded there. But perhaps the most enduring image was Brown's brutal dismissal of a group of Cabinet Office civil servants fulfilling their duty of representing the views of other ministers - including David Blunkett, the other Cabinet member most directly involved - on the details of his welfare to work proposals. It was a menacing paradigm of the Chancellor's version of collegiate politics - one in which those not wholly and continuously for him are held to be against him. So there was no doubt a sense among some of his colleagues of the biter bit.

Theoretically Brown could yet threaten his leader. True to the deep Labour roots on which his new biography lays such heavy emphasis, Brown would seek to draw a line between himself as a true Labour redistributor against Blair, an election-blinded protector of middle-class prosperity. But there is no sign that this scenario will play. For who is blamed for the still reverberating cuts in lone parents benefit? And in any case the two senior Cabinet figures who are most trusted on the left, John Prescott - who has been despite all contrary predictions a model of loyal self-discipline - and Robin Cook are not, to put it mildly, Brown allies. So this scenario doesn't play.

It may yet be that the whole episode will prove beneficial - if the correct lessons are learnt. The first is that however Brown interprets the wide remit over economic and social policy which he believes Blair gave him in return for standing down in 1994, he cannot operate in isolation. Not from his Cabinet colleagues, nor from officialdom, whether in Downing Street or in the Treasury. Sir Terry Burns, the senior Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, has been the most well-known object of his mistrust among Treasury officials. But many of those highly intelligent and experienced officials who currently have to queue up outside Ed Balls's door for an audience could do a lot more to help Brown if only they were given more of an opportunity.

Some of this is already happening. The addition of the highly experienced Treasury official Jeremy Haywood will strengthen the grip of Blair's private office. Brown's deeply private conversations with Blair will not stop. But there may be rather more which take place with a Downing Street official listening in. There are a growing number of ministers who believe that Brown's problems - and the tendency of his lieutenants to short-circuit strategic planning of welfare reform or budget measures with a steady drip of randomly leaked ideas - will not be resolved until his ebullient press secretary Charlie Whelan leaves his service. But there are already signs that Downing Street colleagues are treating Whelan with more circumspection than before.

Brown's gigantic, transforming, contribution to to New Labour cannot be overestimated. But the Chancellor will also have to recognise, further, that other senior ministers have the right to express their views on the broad sweep of policy; as it happens the steadily rising Jack Straw will make a big, broad-ranging speech beyond his own departmental brief today. But above all Brown needs to enjoy the Chancellorship as something more than a stepping stone to the ultimate promotion. He needs to acknowledge - perhaps publicly - that the party made the right choice in Blair, as Hattersley did of Kinnock. For he has the capacity to be a great Chancellor - and it's actually rather a good job.

If he doesn't absorb these lessons, he will seriously, perhaps even dangerously, impair the Government's performance. But he will also - and this may be even truer than it was two weeks ago - damage himself even more. As it happens Lloyd George was also thought by some a possible Prime Minister ahead of Asquith. But though he disagreed with his chief from time to time, the Welsh wizard did not waste the first few years of office grieving that he wasn't in the top job. Opinions differ over how large was the debt Blair clearly felt he owed Brown in 1994. But however great, it has now been purged - and oddly by Brown himself.

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