John Rentoul: Mr Brown a liberal lefty? Then clearly you cannot know him very well

All Brown needs is for Kinnock to attack him on schools policy
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The Independent Online

Good news for Gordon Brown. Official statisticians last week revised the figures for economic output upward by 1 per cent. At a stroke, Britain became richer and more productive, and the moment when China overtook us to become the fourth-largest economy in the world was later than previously thought (although no one is quite sure when that was). All because the value of computer software in business had been underestimated by a factor of five.

Similarly in politics. The ONS, the Office for Notional Status, recalibrated Brown's standing last week and declared that he might not be such a bad prime minister after all. There were dissenting opinions, of course, just as there are no doubt those who think that most computer software is useless and the original valuation of companies' investment in it was about right. The political significance of last week was that Brown upset some of his more other-worldly supporters by lining up behind the Prime Minister under the banner marked "authoritarian and proud".

Sometimes in politics it is necessary to hurt the ones who love you. So Bob Marshall-Andrews, John Kampfner and Neal Lawson hawked their disappointment at their hero's move to the right to any television camera that had a red light on. The rebellious MP for Medway, the editor of the New Statesman and the director of an anti-schools Bill pressure group queued up to denounce their man for turning "Blairite".

Their howls of pain, however, are music to Brown's ears. All he needs now is for Lord Kinnock to condemn his support for the schools Bill and his happiness will be complete. Just as David Cameron had to upset Bupa and PPP/Axa with his move to the left (ditching the Tory policy of subsidising private health care), so Brown's rightward lurch is not real until we hear the cries of anguish from those who thought he was a liberal lefty.

It is a tribute to the power of wishful thinking that there were as many as three people in the country who had thought that the Chancellor was a liberal lefty. They do not know Brown very well. They were certainly not involved in the detailed preparations for his takeover from Blair in the autumn of 2004, when a programme was drawn up that was so right-wing that it would "out-Blair Blair", according to one of those who was consulted.

Those plans had to be put on hold, however, when Blair went back on his privately declared intention to stand down. But the strategy remained, and is beginning to be unveiled now. And, in fairness to Marshall-Andrews, Kampfner and Lawson, it has been rather sudden. It was only in his interview with the Daily Mirror - just seven days before the Commons vote on identity cards - that Brown broke his long silence on the subject. "None of us want our identities stolen and you should be prepared to have some identifying feature on a passport or an identity system," he said. It was only the next day, in an interview on a train with the BBC as part of his outreach mission, that he spoke up for the Bill to ban the glorification of terrorism. "The whole country is furious," he said, about the placards calling for death to those who mock Islam. "People have realised that there are obligations that go with citizenship."

Last week, the Government won the votes on identity cards by a majority of 31 and on glorifying terrorism by a majority of 38. What was billed as the worst week for Blair since, er, the last worst week, turned out to be a bitter disappointment to the broadcasters, sadly packing up the cameras and microphones they had set up at the foot of the gibbet.

The story at the start of the week was that of the "dual premiership" of Blair and Brown, an arrangement to prepare for a stable and orderly transition of power after the disaster of Commons defeats. By Thursday it had turned into the story of the left's disappointment with Brown for saving Blair's unworthy skin again.

It was all nonsense. Just because Brown appeared on Andrew Marr's sofa last weekend in a shiny pink tie, looking like a sulky teenager reluctantly dressed for a wedding, did not mean that there had been a new deal between him and Blair. The excitement over the dual premiership overlooked the fact that the phrase never passed the lips of Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, in the interview that started it. He was asked a question, to which he gave the answer that - to paraphrase - the more Brown were a team player the better.

He was proved right. Late though Brown's support for his government's policies was, as usual, it must have helped to win the votes in the Commons. Not as much, perhaps, as the shock the Labour whips had when they unexpectedly lost two votes on the Religious Hatred Bill at the end of last month. But it helped because it took away the mirage that might have entranced some Labour MPs - the idea that, by voting Blair down, they could get "liberal lefty" Brown instead.

Brown's decision to put security before civil liberties was not, however, part of a deal with Blair. It was a delayed response to the bursting on to the political stage of David Cameron. For the first time since 1992, the Labour Party faces a credible electoral threat. Brown recognises that and so, increasingly, do Labour MPs. Last week's votes suggest that the Labour Party has not yet lost the appetite for government.

The Chancellor understands that, Labour having overtaken the Tories for the first time in living memory as the party more trusted by the voters on national security, it would be madness to throw that advantage away. With some skill, he has used "security" as a theme to link his reputation for sound economic management with his patriotic duty to strengthen the nation's defence. It helps present him as a reassuring leader, contrasted with Cameron's fluidity.

It is not enough, of course, to guarantee that Brown will win either the Labour leadership or the next general election. But he knows that, too. "I don't think people should take anything for granted," he told the Daily Mail last week. "They shouldn't make any presumptions about party opinion or public opinion."

Some of Brown's supporters are disappointed with him because they think he is being dictated to by Blair. The reality is much worse, for them, and suggests that Brown is a more impressive politician than they thought. He is being dictated to by the need to win not the Labour leadership election but the general election. For that, some in the Labour Party will never forgive him. But for the rest of us, it is a good sign.

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