15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 8


The difference between Mr Blair and Mr Brown


As with country, so with party: he is not dismissive of the political tradition which made him. A Scot, he has come up through his party in the traditional way, respectful of its household gods: of organised labour and a shared belief in equality. His tone suggests no impatience to throw any of this over. There is something quite conservative about him.

On policy the archive of this man's utter- ances reveals a native caution, content to leave his courage unstated. On matters of policy his habit is understatement, or no statement. In opposition his conduct was marked by long periods of silence.

Not just in substance but in manner too this is a politician in the old style. He eschews the flourish which characterises modern types 'in touch with their feelings'. His speeches are at best unemotional, at worst leaden. He is all but incapable of lift- ing an audience. His face is inexpressive, stolid almost. Wary of promises, the man sketched here does not take naturally to visionary prose. He is a politician whose talent was never to inspire the mob.

How different is this earthbound spirit from his Ariel of a younger colleague! For the second of our contrasting pair seems to have all the qualities the first lacks. His eyes burn with a reforming zeal, his manner is passionate, his very presence (say those who meet him) charismatic. Few know better than he how to articulate vision, optimism, faith. He is evangelist made politician.

His speeches—full of calls to compas- sion, caring, the new politics and a new mil- lennium—can bring a tingle to the spine of even hardened journalists. He has the gift of communicating idealism: belief in a renewal so complete as to amount almost to our rebirth as a nation. Textual analysis of his speeches reveals a teetering towards the New Testament language of absolution, salvation and the washing-away of the past. His whole being breathes crusade. He radi- ates moral confidence and can sometimes seem to rise above party and to be careless of his own. He speaks as a servant only of the people, and of truth.

His manner is consonant with that. His body language lifts an audience. His move- ments are those of a free spirit. He smiles easily. His habit is to raise his arms, raise his voice, raise his language and raise his face—just as surely as his friend's habit is to end every sentence on a lowering note, jaw set, head and eyes down.

Could any contrast in personal and polit- ical style be more notable than that between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, two men who need each other?

One must provide vision, the other cau- tion. Where one keeps his gaze steady on the distant horizon, his friend is more cir- cumspect—skilled in the arts of compro- mise, ever ready to draw back and do the sums, index finger raised to the political wind. For every creative product-manager, there must be an unadventurous little per- son to keep the books.

Brown is the creative one, of course; Blair the bookkeeper. Lumpy old Gordon Brown is the prophet, the man who (we tend to forget this) helped invent the new party to which his friend then signed up. Soaraway Tony Blair is his doubting politi- cal fixer: worldly, calculating and, beneath the sequins, finally dull.

Ignore what they say; see what they do. Mr Brown has done much, most of it brave. He has handed a most important weapon to the Governor of the Bank of England. He has stuck to his guns on public spend- ing. He has concluded that, whether it is popular or not, Britain ought to join the single currency and stop shilly-shallying around, and he has begun shunting us that way. Brown has been Chancellor since May. Not bad for six months.

Tony Blair has done little, most of it ner- vous. His decisions on motor-racing spon- sorship and fox-hunting are recent if small examples of a tendency to wriggle out from under. I suspect there was a serious private wobble last year about devolution. And when the time comes to fix it, there will be another about the minimum wage. A little- noted trait in Mr Blair is a tendency to gal- lop around the paddock with some brava- do, but to shy at fences.

The impression grows of a Prime Minis- ter insecure about his old friends, and with a visceral fear of annoying his new ones. On Europe he is bobbing gently away on the current which, unless resisted, carries every British prime minister into a position of wan dubiety toward all things Continen- tal. He has taken fright at the single curren- cy, then taken fright at stories of a split with his Chancellor, and ended by stitching a serviceable compromise to cover his rear until about the middle of next year.

It has been cleverly done but it was not quite what we were led to expect. We are told that on 1 May 'Fear lost. Hope won. The Giving Age began.' But what seems to have begun is Majorism Mark II, with turbo-charged rhetoric and PR knobs on. Prot a Manger may be smarter than Happy Eater, but both sell convenience food.

Gordon Brown can be careless of conve- nience, but Tony Blair knows all about it. He is a skilful but rather nervy chap with a sharp eye for the political weather which, when it turns, sends him scuttling for cover and leaving Brown trudging purposefully through the rain. Confident to the point of swagger, Mr Blair is secretly unsure. But he really does want to be prime minister.

His one big idea concerns (revealingly) process rather than substance: the 'detrib- alising' of politics. But will that fly? Should there be trouble on the runway you may be sure that the Prime Minister will be down the emergency chute and back in the VIP lounge before they've even switched the engines off.

Mr Blair is beginning to remind one of Harold Wilson. We only remember Wil- son's ending now. We forget that at the start he appeared as a cleansing force in a decadent age. Wilson once described the Labour Party as 'a crusade, or nothing'. Roy Hattersley observed, 'I try not to think about his assertion. The logical implica- tions are too painful.'

Matthew Parris is parliamentary sketchwriter of the Times.