Capable Brown's political savvy rewards young and old, but what about the truly deserving?

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The Independent Online

I love Gordon's Budgets. They make me feel so safe and warm and secure. There's something almost magical about the way they bring persuasive good news, sparky innovation, a sense of blossoming generosity tempered with disciplined fairness.

Each year more mesmerisingly he manages to give the impression that here is a man who is utterly in command of, and utterly committed to, his field. Gordon makes sums seem like sunshine. He makes you believe that calculators can change the world. While Gordon's Budgets have always been good, they've become so deft now that its hard to believe he ever, ever made a false move.

It's hard now to believe, for example, that just a few years ago he made the mistake of patronising pensioners with derisory handouts that stirred them into militancy. He learned his lesson. The Chancellor gives the impression that much of his waking life is spent in contemplation of how he can help the aged. Good for him, too.

Likewise with families. Brown has always made it his crusade to "lift children out of poverty". In this Budget, again, he strove to help working families, committed parents and all kinds of children in a myriad of ways. Good news in all sorts of simple or exotic packages was placed on the table yesterday, in quiet and understandable triumph.

Brown has a surprisingly large amount to give away, which reassures the doubters of his fiscal ability. But what really impresses is his political ability. No one could accuse Brown of putting together a vulgar Budget, offering tax cuts in return for votes. The Chancellor would never be that crass.

But he has, nevertheless, delivered a bribery Budget, one that reassures voters that even though they won't be keeping more of their hard-earned money, they can rest assured that only the hard-working, the aged and the childishly innocent will be getting their mitts on much of it.

Which is why I hate Gordon's Budget as well, with its sanctimonious obsession with the deserving poor and its insidious, Victorian implication that all those who are failing to share in Britain's marvellous prosperity have only got themselves to blame. Brown, as he announced another long-overdue "concession" to pensioners, declaimed that a good society must be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable.

The truth is, though, that Mr Brown prefers not to discuss the most vulnerable. Gordon's election Budget mentioned nothing about aiding people in prison, people on drugs, people with mental illnesses. This is not stuff people want to be told their money is being spent on - not until they try and fail to get help for someone in their own family, anyway. And this is not stuff that Mr Brown wants to go out on a limb to try and justify either.

That's too politically tricky and sounds far too much like providing handouts for the despised underclass. Brown likes to be seen as caring, and he is, up to a point. But he's a political creature first and foremost, as can be seen by his irresponsible neglect of unpopular environmental regulation. And he is not in the least willing to look like a man who is soft on the stupid, the wayward, the lazy, the ignorant, the undisciplined, the damaged, the broken and the lost.

Who can blame him? Sometimes, after all, these people cause havoc. Sometimes they ruin everything. Once in a blue moon, they turn out to be psychotic cannibals, gulling their social workers and running amok in a fury of destruction. But even these people are part of the deal - a product, even though unwanted - of a system that on the whole we're happy with. If we don't want that system's flaws to poison the entire social polity, then all this must be faced and dealt with humanely. We've been marking those who are neither young nor old but just anomalous as "undeserving" and closing down the debate around them for decades now. It does not work.

More dreadfully though, the bulk of the people who stand outside the warm embrace of Gordon's munificence are not like this. They are not old, and they don't have children, so they don't qualify for tax cuts or housing. They get the minimum wage if they work. But often they're on incapacity benefit, which Labour is supposed to be "cracking down" on.

Maybe they have minor mental illnesses, obsessive compulsions, mild personality disorders, that the NHS, social services and the prison service don't have the therapeutic capacity to deal with. Maybe they're not very bright, or not terribly well socialised, or had a single debilitating experience that ended up dogging their life.

Whatever. They just can't quite cope, and condemning them for that doesn't change things. Mostly, they just struggle on the best they can, hardly finding time in the daily struggle for survival to work out exactly when it was that their life unravelled, or why it is that they turned out to be worth so little. In this Budget, for them, there are no answers.