The Blair government has been busy. Initiatives here, new laws there, reports, proposals and plans – in a new book trying to audit its record we have tried to list them all.
What the administration has lacked, however, is a sense that all the busy work comes together in some larger whole.
‘This pudding lacks a theme,’ Churchill is supposed to have said and, the bland generalities of the ‘Third Way’ aside, it’s true of New Labour.
Except for the chancellor. Gordon Brown would reject the charge. There is a grand plan and it’s about using economic progress to offer more people the chance to realise their ambitions.
In his Budget speech, as he has before, he harped on his pet themes: improving productivity, getting people into work, creating conditions of economic stability in which companies can prosper.
Like the Thatcherites, Brown and Blair say there are real limits to how much the state can intervene in the economy. But unlike them Brown does not believe you can just let the economy tick over by itself.
The state – meaning him – has constantly to be fussing over details, incentives, stimuli. That explains his meddling with the tax system, credits here, allowances there, all designed, he would say, to improve the uptake of technology on the one hand while rewarding ordinary people for taking and keeping jobs on the other.
We don’t yet talk about ‘Brownism’ to characterise the doctrine (which also has the dogmatic side shown by his insistence on his version of privatisation for the tubes).
But as the election approaches it is clearer such intellectual thrust as the Blair government has stems largely from Gordon Brown.
Whether that makes him the best candidate to take over is the question that will dominate Westminster for at least the next five years – since Labour’s election victory is now taken for granted.
– David Walker is analysis editor at the Guardian. Did Things Get Better? by David Walker and Polly Toynbee is published by Penguin at #36.99.
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