So, if the future does belong to Gordon, what will it be like? If Gordon Brown is the prime minister in waiting, what kind of counry would he run? Would he be New Labour, old Labour, real Labour dour Labour?
Well, one thing we can be pretty sure is that whatever he will be he won’t be socialist - at least not in the traditional sense. No goveernment led by Gordon Brown would be opposed on principle to capitalism, the profit motive, personal enrichment or private enterprise. Indeed, he promised at last week’s manifesto launch to “celebrate enterprise”. Trades unions will not be welcome in Number Ten for beer and sandwiches.
Nor would Gordon Brown have any particular fondness for state controls. Teh future Prime Minister is an enthusiast for the NHS and public services in general. He believes they are the embodiment of the good society. Collective provision of health is a moral virtue - in this he departed from the aggressive modernising agenda of Tony Blair. He doesn’t think that patients are simply consumers.
However, this hat doesn’t mean he is a soft touch for bureaucracy . Brown has also celebrated his ruthlessness in paring back the state in the Gershon review, which slashes no fewer than 85,000 civil service jobs. Nor is Brown in any illusions about the efficiency of the state. The chancellor was a pioneer of the highly controversial public private partnership - also known as the private finance initiative - in public procurement. Under PPP, schools, hospitals, council housing is not only financed by private capital, but managed by the private sector for typically thirty years. It has been widely criticised as a bad deal for the tax-payer, as projects like the ERI hospital in Edinburgh have turned out to have rather fewer beds than originally intended. But don’t expect Gordon Brown to start winding down this invasion of the private cash into the state - if anything he is likely to accelerate it. He fought a running battle with Ken Livingstone over the part-privatisation of London Underground. Ken won - but Brown will be back.
What abotu redistribution then? Hasn’t the Chancellor been responsible for a quiet revolution, using tax credits to funnel cashj from the rich to the working poor? Yes, there is evidence that he has achieved a degree of redistribution - thouogh the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested recently that it wasn’t exactly a fundamental and irreversible shift of wealth and opportunity to the poorest inn society. In fact, the bottom ten percent haven’t crawled very high up the ladder of prospecity under Brown.
What has happened is that working families have become significantly better off, as Brown has addressed what the tories used to call the Whyt Work Syndrome. Brown’s tax credits made work pay for the less well off - it gave them an incentive to get off benefits. This is likely to be extended - aggressively so under Brown - into areas like the incapacity benefit and the over fifties. Brown will address the problem of ageing work force by making the aged work for a living. It is a scandal that one in three over fifties in Scotland are no longer economically active.
Brown has a very puritan approach to society. He seriously believes that people should work. There will be no hiding place for the “Shameless” poor living on benefits in sprawling council estates. People like..... will find themselves under relentless pressure to get a job and get a life. Indeed, I would not be surpriused if Brown doesn’t introduce more elements of the workfare culture of America, where benefits are time-limited. This will be no laissez faire Prime Minister who will; be content to bumble along with things as they have been in the past. He will be aggressively interventionist in countering inefficiencies in all areas of society.
When Brown says he intends to revolutionise British working practices, the trades unionists had better believe it. Because Brown still has a knack of using socialist rhetoric, he has often been applauded by the left while expressing economic objectives of which Margaret Thatcher wold have been proud. Brown is a born again free trader - more like an old style, Victorian Liberal than a 20th Century social democrat. Brown sees the global market as an opportunity to liberate the world for proverty and economic backwardness through comparative advantage. Adam Smith would have been proud of him. .
But the Chancellor is in no doubt abour the challenge free trade poses to the British economy. Did Gordon Brown utter a word of comfort for Rover? No way - the Chancellor kept as far away from that particular disaster as possible. Brown is utterly unsentimental about industrial relics of the past. He is uninterested in propping up manufacturing industries like volume car companies which can no longer compete on the world market because their labour costs are too high.
Old style socialists would have called for protectionism do save domestic jobs at Rover and prevent British workers being undercut by cheap foreign workers. But Brown sees things very differently. He believes foreign workers have every right to make themselves better off by under-cutting the cushioned work-forces of the first world. That is the only way that the wretched of the earth are ever going to get ahead.
The consequence is that the old industrialised workers have to re-train, re-skill, go back to school if necessary to justify their salaries. This is a tough lesson. But Brown believes that a kind of permanent revolution in the knowledge society can lead to a revolution in productivity which will be to everyone’s advantage.
But would Brown be as pro-American as Tony Blair. In short would he be George Bush’s poodle? If by this is meant would Brown have got involved in the Iraq war, the answer is no - he would have been much too smart to get dragged into a crack=pot crusade to zap tyrants. The Bush/Blair axis was not evil - just dumb. Apart from anything else, the sheer cost of the Iraq war woudl have appalled Brown.
However, Brown would not be anti-American. Far from it, he is an even greater Americophile than Blair, and has long taken his holidays in Cape Cod where the American political elite hang out. Brown would be more interested in America than in Europe, which he regards as economically backward, inefficient and protectionist.
Indeed, Brown has become so disillusioned with the EU that we might never join the single European currency. He is certainly in no hurry to join that particular club, where certain members seem to be free to break the rules with impunity. Under the so-called stability pact, member states are supposed to confine public borrowing to 3% of GDP = but Germany and France have ignored this constraint. Meanwhile, as Brown is forever reminding us, under Labour, the UK has stuck to the Maastricht criteria as a result of his prudent economic management.
But how long would prudence survive Brown in Number Ten. Prime Ministers have different priorities to Chan cellors. If as expected there is an economic crunch coming, as the IMF forecast, would Brown bust his budget, or would he acceptr touch medicine? I think he would opt for the hair shirt. But faced with the choice of increasing taxes and cutting public spending, I have little doubt which he would favour. The public sector is going to find that PM Brown is no soft touch. If the fiscal imbalance stirkes, the first people to feel the heat will be state employees. A revoliton in productivity, of th ekind happeneing in the private sector, would be imposed on public services.
If public sectoir unions thought Tony Blair was bad, they haven’t seen anything yet.