More Britannia, less cool

Observations on the Budget (2)

The immediate aim of Gordon Brown's latest, and possibly last, Budget was to rejuvenate the significant part of Labour's core support that has grown disillusioned. However, the announcements and the tone also tell us something about the nature of Brown the man and provide clues as to the kind of premiership he has in store, assuming he does eventually inherit No 10.

Brown's world involves more Britannia, less cool. The metropolitan, modish world that Tony Blair and some in his entourage believed the millennium would introduce now belongs to another era. So it is the non-dilettantes who will benefit most from Brown's limited Budget largesse - families with children, especially poorer ones, pensioners, people struggling to buy their first home, injured soldiers, budding sportsmen, church wardens . . . and the late Queen Mum.

You would have thought Buck House could fork out for a statue on the Mall, but there are always a few votes to be won among the over-sixties, both Labour- and Conservative-minded, through an easy display of patriotism. Brown chose not to follow up his thinking on Britishness, but there were plenty of references in his Budget speech to the UK "leading the world". Implicit in his recent remarks is a belief that Tony Blair's foreign policy has been supine towards the United States. Brown is not looking to recalibrate towards Europe (as ever, he provided not a word of praise or hope for the EU integrationist tendency), but he is looking to develop a greater sense of British national interest. He has started to develop the theme that Britons should be more proud of their imperial past, but Brown sees his moral crusading abroad as being less pugilistic than Blair's.

The domestic messages were particularly clear. Brown argues that wealth creation must serve a purpose. No increase in personal disposable wealth compensates for a breakdown in communities in which teenagers spend their cash on benders and towns are split between those on the housing ladder and those off it. In place of irresponsibility comes national community service for up to one million young volunteers - an idea Brown and David Blunkett had been mooting for some time.

Young singletons might complain as much as they like, but each loosening and tightening of the fiscal belt carries with it a social message - look after the very young, respect the elderly, do your duty at home and abroad.

"You judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable," Brown told MPs. Rarely has he been more didactic. Rarely has he played more openly to what he is convinced are Britain's traditional values.

John Kampfner is the New Statesman's political editor

www.jkampfner.net

Next Article