Our ‘son of the manse’ Prime Minister always believed he had an advantage denied to lesser mortals, but the tide appears to be turning, writes By Iain Martin.
Gordon Brown would have made a great minister of the Kirk. He is the embodiment of the Church of Scotland in which his father preached with Presbyterian distinction: sparing of too much of the God stuff, heavy on the communitarian emphasis on moral authority and interested in the interminable troubles of Africa.
To say that Brown is a “son of the manse” is an epithet, compliment or insult (take your pick), with no equivalent in England. Attached to it are notions of academic striving, exemplary achievement at an early age and pressure to “do good”. On its own this can often breed a middling to serious moral superiority complex, but in the case of the young Brown it was combined with another influence which accentuated the tendencies already developed by upbringing. He came to maturity in time for the birth of Thatcherism and what he regarded as its wicked attack on all he cherished most: collectivism, hyper-
active government, higher taxes and public spending.
The broad Scottish Left of which Brown was the young star in the 1980s was, even by its own low standards, particularly pompous and self-satisfied in its proclamations of imagined moral superiority over the English. In 1989 Brown even penned the definitive tract of that movement: Where there’s Greed: Margaret Thatcher and the betrayal of Britain’s future.
Those, then, are Brown’s roots and here is why they will matter this year: morality is making a comeback but not in ways which are to the Prime Minister’s advantage.
The idea of Brown the up-standing moralist, cultivated by the man himself, is being attacked in blistering fashion and he does not like it much.
Brown’s tide of cheap money floated New Labour, created the illusion of prosperity and secured re-election. The resulting tax revenues and doubling of public spending, which is money that would have been better saved by individuals and then used to create more wealth, paid for the maintenance of a vast empire of social engineering which has kept the poor imprisoned on welfare in ghettoes with education inadequate to enable them to clamber out in sufficient numbers. If that is not immorality in the field of public policy, I am not sure what is.
So many of the big choices we face at this moment are as much moral as they are economic. Why should small businesses be taxed out of existence so that Lord Mandelson can possibly give taxpayer money to Tata, the Indian owners of Jaguar who make a profit and are about to sponsor Ferrari? That would be simply immoral. Why should savers who own their homes pay for the recklessness of those who over-borrowed and need interest rates to collapse to virtually nothing as a result? What of the fashion for printing money and loading the debt on our children in the shape of much higher taxes? If it has any virtue beyond expediency I would like to hear what it is.
Throughout his career the PM has relied on the idea that in the moral dimension he has an advantage denied to lesser mortals, framing his arguments constantly in terms of their innate goodness. Now he is in the process of finding out that the boot is on the foot of his opponent.
• Full story at the Daily Telegraph.