27 APRIL 2002, Page 46


Who is the Chancellor?

Michael Vestey

By now, of course, the full implications of the Budget will have sunk in and we'll have a clear idea of how much worse off we will be this year. What we won't know is: who is Gordon Brown'? This man with the somewhat alarming personality, once described by someone at No. 10 as 'psychologically flawed'. There seem to be a number of Gordon Browns judging by a programme on BBC Radio Five Live on Budget day, The Real Gordon Brown, presented by Clive Anderson.

Brown is, it appears, at once dour, secretive, stubborn, inflexible, amusing, sociable, vengeful, loyal, chaotic in his domestic life; at least, according to those who know him. I suppose you can be all these things but it seems rather odd; it might help, though, to strengthen our grip on our wallets. I'm not sure I was much the wiser at the end of the programme, though it contained some useful insights. Anderson began by telling us, 'He's a man who's said to have a brain the size of Canada but whose personality, to those who cross him, can be as chilly and unapproachable as the North West Passage.'

Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, saw cunning. Whereas, he said, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell were regarded as the spinners: 'Brown, equally cleverly, has almost come up with an anti-image. He doesn't do anything interesting in public, he's boring in the hope you'll think, here is my bank manager, here is the man to whom I can give my money and it'll be absolutely safe in his hands ... The only thing one knows about him in public is that he's dour, he's Scottish and appears to be mean, so conforms to a traditional stereotype.'

Alf Young, political editor of the Glasgow Herald and a friend for 30 years, attributed what he called these 'grim epithets' to English prejudice, describing Brown as a 'warm, amusing companion'. Alistair Moffat. an Edinburgh University chum and now chairman of Scottish Television, said, 'He was a lot of fun. .. very

witty, loved a party.' Matthew Parris, the columnist and former Tory MP. said Brown looks strong and doesn't care what the House thinks. He sometimes resembles someone who won't engage with other reasonable human beings, he could be mulish. He once heard him in a parliamentary committee refusing to admit that 2.2 was less than 2.3 because he knew that something was going up that he'd said would be going down.

Andrew Rawnsley, author of the revealing hook Semants of the People, which exposed government in-fighting, said, 'He finds it difficult to conceal his disdain for anyone he doesn't regard as his intellectual equal which, frankly, includes the Prime Minister and the rest of his Cabinet.' As Mo Mowlam discovered, according to one of Brown's admirers, the journalist Julia Langdon. Mow-lam and he had differences in opposition so that, when Labour came to power. 'Brown insisted that Blair sent her as far away as possible from anything he was doing'. And we know where that was: Northern Ireland.

Perhaps. as a result of what Anderson described as a 'waywardness in personal organisation', Brown's worst moment in government came during the fuel crisis. Rawnsley believed Brown had little conception of by how much the price of petrol had gone up and why it mattered to most people. Depending on whom you listen to, Brown has both a close working relationship with Blair and a distant, resentful, secretive one, even keeping from Blair full details of his Budget until it's too late to do anything about it. Rawnsley said Brown taught Blair how to craft a soundbite and press release. If this is true then we know that Brown was a good tutor.

He also pointed out that Brown was the more experienced of the two when they began their partnership to create New Labour. 'After all, he'd been a student-rector, a published political author at a time when Tony Blair was still fantasising about being Mick Jagger and strumming in Ugly Rumours at Oxford without any thought of a political career at all.' On the other hand, Blair might be cleverer in one respect, as Rawnsley suggested. When Bernie Ecclestone gave £1 million to the party with a promise of more to come, Formula 1, over which he presides, was exempted from a proposed ban on tobacco advertising in sport. Brown faced the awkward questions.

'He basically feels that Tony Blair dumped him in it by corralling him into the decision to conceal the fact that they'd taken fl million. For a period the Chancellor himself took a lot of heat for giving answers which were inconsistent with the truth. I think he then felt even more resentful. When Tony Blair was principally to blame for covering it up ... he was taking the heat. After hearing this programme I wondered if I should ask the real Gordon Brown to stand up but then realised that several would rise to their feet.