Leading article: Brown bottled out

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The Independent Online

Come the hour, cometh not the man. Gordon Brown may never have a better opportunity than last week's Pre-Budget Report to start to introduce the strong measures to tackle climate change that we have been awaiting since he announced his intention to be "the greenest-ever Chancellor" almost a decade ago. The urgent change of direction demanded by the Stern report - that Mr Brown commissioned - had been almost universally endorsed. Both of the main opposition parties were calling for wide-ranging green taxation. And the public was braced for tough action, realising that it is now long overdue.

What did we get? An admittedly radical aim to ensure that every new house emits no carbon dioxide within a decade. But new homes form only a tiny proportion of the total national stock. The doubling of air passenger duty, but to take it back only to where it was when Labour came to power. And 1.25p more tax on a litre of petrol - a pathetic increase after a three-year freeze, and at a time when prices are falling.

Even more important was what we did not get - a restoration of the fuel price escalator, annually raising duty above inflation, which was introduced by the Tories but scrapped by the craven Chancellor after the 2000 fuel-price protests. Privately, Mr Brown concedes that ditching it was wrong. But publicly, in his speech last week, he ruled out reintroducing it. It appears that he lacks political courage - the Blairite charge that he does not have the bottle to be a good Prime Minister may indeed be true.

Perhaps that is too harsh. Optimists say there was little he could do last week - that many of the measures he wants to take are out for consultation, or part of a different process, or would be best announced in the next Budget, or when he becomes Prime Minister. But we have heard this before. On the strength of last week's performance, we might be better waiting for David Cameron instead.