Mark Steel: Why do they keep on thinking Brown will be better?

He backed the war, and everything else that Blair's ever done - except not resigning
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The Independent Online

The ability some people in the Labour Party have for deluding themselves is simply terrifying. For example, there's now a layer of members purring that Gordon Brown will be much better than Tony Blair, because, as several MPs put it, his "soul" is in Labour.

So then Gordon makes speeches such as: "No I won't, I'll be shite." Then Labour members say: "Aha, that shows wily Gordon preparing to instil traditional Labour values," and Gordon says: "No I'm not, if you think I'm going to stop privatising stuff kiss my arse." And they say: "Ooh isn't it wonderful to know he'll stop privatising stuff."

You can see why some people think he must be better than Blair, simply because it's impossible not to be, so he'll be like whatever doctor took over from Harold Shipman. If Brown can go a while without supporting an illegal disastrous war he's cracked it. Except he backed that war, and everything else that Blair's ever done - everything (except not resigning).

So how do people who are opposed to the war and to tuition fees and private finance initiatives say all this will improve under Brown? It's like saying: "The most important issues for me are sexual liberation, equality for gays and a woman's right to an abortion, which is why I hope the next leader of the Labour Party is the Pope."

There's a theory that Brown is just saying all this because he "has to" at the moment. So he's behaving like a teenager anxiously waiting for his Dad to leave - "Yes, of course I'll look after everything, of course I won't put tax rates up or abolish the monarchy." Then as soon as Blair's round the corner he'll trash the place.

In any case, does it matter that your soul is in Labour if you support the same things as someone whose soul is in the Pentagon? I don't suppose anyone in Fallujah said: "We were lucky, because our street was bombed by the soul of Labour."

Labour stalwarts are so desperate for a crumb of comfort they cling to anything. Brown only has to make a speech saying he cares about the young and they think he's Castro. Even then, his speech that was reported as having backed votes for 16-year-olds actually said he "notes the disengagement of young people."

So he's going to reverse that, is he, the man who delivered an entire speech about "endogynous growth projects". Maybe the way to get young people engaged is to make speeches that connect with them, such as "Like, yeah, endogynous growth projects, whatever."

In his interview in this paper yesterday Brown commented further on this "disengagement", pondering why political meetings attract no one, but if politicians make "exactly the same speech in a theatre" the "venues are packed".

Well, hang on. Some politicians, such as Tony Benn or George Galloway after his fight with the US Senate, face venues that are packed. But try booking out the Fairfield Halls in Croydon for a show called "Hazel Blears unleashed" or "Alistair Darling unplugged," and see if the street is teeming with touts muttering "Blears buy or sell, eighty pounds yer Darling."

Tony Benn has, for some years, been a huge attraction at Glastonbury, and you can see this must puzzle people like Gordon Brown. He must think Benn cheats, and says: "Well I shan't talk for long 'cos y'know I do want to catch Radiohead. But I must warn you not to buy mushrooms off the chap in the poncho behind the pyramid stage, 'cos I tried some last night, was convinced I was a flamingo which made rather a mockery of my talk on the Tolpuddle Martyrs."

Brown also refers repeatedly to what he appears to believe is his most stunning achievement, in making the Bank of England independent, so they determined interest rates. Now he suggests he'd go further in making decisions "independent of the executive in a way that will restore trust."

What does that mean then? Is he going to let the Bank of England decide other things, like who manages the England football team. Perhaps Eddie George will pick a 10-man team following a feasability study showing the job of goalkeeper can be merged with the centre-back. Or they'll be given the job of scheduling Sky One, so the programmes will be called When Exchange Rates attack or Britain's wildest endogynous growth videos.

The frustrating thing is, it would be so easy for Gordon Brown to make himself a real hero. All he'd have to do is, next time he's on one of those jaunts he does with Blair, say: "I'll tell you what I won't do, build a bloody, pointless Dome, on a swamp. Ay? Talk about a £50m heist. Or put Mandelson in charge of anything - once, let alone twice." What's Blair going to do? He can hardly change his mind about resigning.

But maybe it's all irrelevant anyway. Because Blair's been tucking him up for 12 years now and he might still be stringing him along now.

So just as Blair's about to hand over, at Downing Street with the world's press assembled, Blair will make his farewell speech: "Right, well, here we are and hey, it's all very poignant. But just before I hand over to my dear friend Gordon I'd like to thank you all for not bringing up that business between him and George Michael. Oh didn't you know, blimey, well right I'm off."