LETTER from THE EDITOR

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Never underestimate a Presbyterian reformer. Gordon Brown has already made the setting of interest-rate policy more open than in any other Western country, and, as we reported yesterday, he's hostile to the traditional Budget culture. He wants a more open and less frantic Budget process - less of a secretive huddle of special interest groups trying to cut up the national cake, and more of a national discussion about investment and macro-economics; in other words, how to get a bigger slice of the global cake.

Some will dismiss this as the typical posturing of a newcomer. Treasury friends tell me it's all nonsense, and that Budget culture will overtake Broon, not the other way about. I doubt it. It may not be the case that clothes maketh the man, but they revealeth him - witness, in this case, Brown's famously dour collection of blue suits, and his curt refusal to wear silly clothing at City speeches. He is his own man, a son of the manse, not the Mansion House.

In this, he's very like the late John Smith. I interviewed Smith while he was contesting the Labour leadership, and he gave me a table-hammering exposition of the case for radical reform of the Lords. Taken aback, I expressed some surprise at his passion on the subject. Smith coloured. He didn't generally talk about these things, he said, but I would understand. I was a fellow Scot. It was all those ... those Anglican bishops and Lord Chancellors and so on. I looked blank. Well, he said, they were just sitting around, in wigs and stockings ... "You know, Andrew," Smith finally blurted, "it's all those men dressing up in women's clothing. We're just not having that sort of thing." A true reformer's voice.

As I say, my advice to the Treasury is: don't underestimate the Church of Scotland.

Good advice, too, for Tony Blair. I picked it up at a party in the middle of the week from Norman Tebbit, who believes Blair should think very carefully before threatening his rebel MPs with removal of the whip. "Never corner a rat," is how Lord T put it, before pausing and adding thoughtfully, "unless, of course, you've got a ruddy great stick in your hand and you're going to bash its head in."

I have been in Ireland (getting away from the rain, you see) talking politics. This column being a place where an editor can indulge in private self-doubt, here are a few thoughts on voting reform, which I and this newspaper (un-coincidentally) support. The shift of power on Thursday from Bruton to Ahern was in some respects exemplary - better-humoured and more relaxed than changes of government here. But part of the reason is clearly the time it takes - the horse-trading and haggling.

Here is a shortened list of what three independent TDs demanded of Bertie Ahern in a dozen private meetings as a price for their votes: new industry to replace the closed Pretty Polly factory in Killarney; the upgrading of piers in South Kerry, and the N81 road, too; a new secondary school for Kilcoole; and a new district veterinary office in County Wicklow. Well, you may say, how else are the good people of Kerry to impress their views on national government - and aren't there some backwaters in the British Isles which would benefit from pork-barrel politics here? But it's a rum way of doing business. I feel it fair to share doubts about reform, you see, as well as my certainties.

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