Gordon Brown’s defects are under scrutiny. His critics identify petulance, vanity and vaulting ambition. Much of Westminster, including many Labour MPs, several Cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister, now agrees with Alastair Campbell that Mr Brown is psychologically flawed. But this is a serious underestimate, both of his strengths and of his weaknesses. He is more accurately described in another phrase of Mr Campbell’s: ‘An out-of-control colossus.’
Gordon Brown’s intellectual self-confidence is certainly colossal. This is a man who believes that he is not only a practical politician but the most important political theorist of our times. He thinks that he has created a new socialism, based on a new theory of the state and of the relationship between economic management and society.
This is also a man who believes he can run everything. Since he became Chancellor, he has doubled the size of the Treasury. He has also doubled the size of Tolley’s Tax Guide, the tax accountants’ handbook. In his latest manifesto, published in the Guardian recently, he declared his intention of taking over family policy. If he has his way, there will soon be an equivalent of Tolley for parents, and almost as long. This is a man who believes in control, exercised by him. He has modified the instruction for army recruits — ‘if it moves, salute it; if it doesn’t move, polish it’ — into ‘whatever it is doing, regulate it’. As a result, we have a tax and benefits system of mind-breaking complexity.
There is an irony. Gordon Brown insists that he admires America and that Europe has much to learn from the American economic model. This is extraordinary. No one has so misunderstood the country he purports to admire since Major Thompson. The American model is simple, and would be even more so were it not for the influence of liberals and litigators, which George Bush has not done nearly enough to curb.