Gordon Brown

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(317)

Francis Beckett, Haus, £10.99

One of the final attacks from Blair's camp to stop Gordon Brown taking over as prime minister was from the civil servant Lord Turnbull. He accused Brown of having a "Stalinist ruthlessness" and saying he was like "Macavity's cat".

The cat in question comes from a TS Eliot poem. "He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare: At whatever time the deed took place - MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!"

Blair had a talent for never taking the blame for his actions. Brown has continued and extended the habit.

The contradiction of being both the neoliberal architect of New Labour and having to distance himself from Blair to stay in power is the route to understanding Gordon Brown.

This thoughtful book attempts to look at what is different with Brown.

Beckett has written a number of useful political biographies and is suitably hostile to Blair, who he dismisses as "a Ramsay MacDonald figure". His opposition to the war in Iraq and city academies is admirable. But unfortunately his desire for Labour to be a bit better seems to make him swallow too much of Brown's spin.

We are told were Brown prime minister at the time, he would have backed the invasion of Iraq but would have wanted a firm plan for occupation that might have stopped the chaos. Brown didn't seem to mind paying for it and looks to be scrambling for a withdrawal option precisely because his and Blair's invasion was such an unmitigated disaster.

Beckett labels Brown an earnest 1950s figure, contrasted to Blair, just two years younger but a middle class 1960s trendy. This emphasises form rather than substance. More dangerous is the perception that Brown, unlike Blair, is part of the "Labour Family".

This is nothing new. Blair and Brown pretended to be leftish Tribunites during the 1980s, saying as much about that self delusion as it does about politicians' greasy pole climbing skills. Beckett is the latest to make the convincing argument that the reason Brown didn't stand against Blair in 1994 for party leadership is that it would have held up the "modernising" project in the Labour Party.

Blair would have moved to the right and Brown would have moved to the left (in reality the union bureaucracy) to win, so Brown stood down so the Labour party could move more effectively to the right.

The rebellions over tuition fees, foundation hospitals and trust schools were all scuppered by Brown who was most fearful of Labour in any way moving left.

Brown's recent crackdown on public sector wages is the latest part of his commitment to neoliberalism. But as early as 1995 his first speech as shadow chancellor was titled "The Dynamic Market Economy".

Betting that Gordon Brown is going to move the party left is to setting oneself up for severe and brutal disappointment.