Behind the dour exterior presented by the tenant of Number 11, Downing Street beats the heart of a consummate political tactician who evidently enjoys political gamesmanship. Gordon Brown may have so far failed in the grandest game of all – becoming prime minister – but in the contests of everyday politics, he has proved to have a sure touch. Take, for example, that burst of speculation about a Brownian motion in the direction of Washington and the International Monetary Fund. It did his reputation no end of good and served to remind the tenant of Number 10 and everyone else just how valuable the chancellor is. Since the departure of spin doctor Charlie Whelan, Brown’s public relations have improved. No one has anything but praise for Ed Balls, who combines the role of chief economic adviser with the dropper of casual words into willing ears. He is honest, bright and as straightforward as possible. Brown himself is a PR whizz who in party, media and City circles charms and inspires in equal measure. It is not that he lacks the dark arts. Where are his fingerprints on the transport debacle? Poor John Prescott has been left carrying the can for a set of omissions (particularly on the investment side) that are entirely down to the Treasury. Brown has perfected the art of distancing himself from hardline Treasury spending constraints, but he makes all the calls. Watch his body language over withholding tax on investment income for non-nationals within the EU. At times he has been more sceptical than the Euro-sceptics; at times been far from appreciative of the German position. That could sound an excessively pro-free market position for this egalitarian chancellor to adopt. But wait. Over the next few months, expect Brown to attend OECD meetings with fanfare and make a strong case for strengthening international taxation regimes, even to the point of proscribing tax havens. That way he presents himself to his Labour Party audiences as the enemy of rich tax evaders but keeps his credentials in the City burnished bright. Playing two ends against the middle is the consummate politician’s art and Brown is a master musician.
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