The Spectator

How Gordon will fight Dave

How Gordon will fight Dave
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"As good as it gets," said Tony Blair of Gordon Brown. What he meant was: "As good as it got", which is not quite the same thing. It is no secret that Mr Blair wanted someone to run against the Chancellor. But it did not happen, and here we all are.

And so today, with much backslapping and many tributes, the decree absolute was at last declared on the most turbulent political marriage of modern times. It is almost 13 years since Mr Blair became leader on 21 July 1994, and now Mr Brown has at last succeeded him. The couple are divorced at last. In his expression of absolute liberation, Gordon reminded me of Nicole Kidman when she leapt for joy after freeing herself from Tom Cruise.

The marital paperwork out of the way, the new leader got stuck into David Cameron. And - be in no doubt - the challenge to the Tories from this Labour warhorse is going to be formidable. First, and most conspicuously, Mr Brown claimed the mantle of New Labour more contentedly than he would ever have done during his long feud with Mr Blair: "that is not the New Labour way", he said of the backsliders and those who would retreat to the Left. He thanked Neil Kinnock for making New Labour possible. He praised those who took tough and bold decisions with as much passion as Mr Blair ever mustered.

Second, he presented Labour unequivocally as the party of aspiration: housing was a central theme in the speech, which is why the Housing Minister will attend the Brown Cabinet as of right. He spoke again and again of the anxieties and hopes of Middle Britain, more aggressively so than ever before. He flew the flag brazenly: "everyone must play by the rules," he warned. He said that he understood those who were "anxious about crime and the British way of life" - a statement that, had Michael Howard made it during the last election, Labour would have scorned as a "dog whistle". Mr Brown said that he despises what he called "ray-shists", and I have absolutely no doubt that he does. But his strong support for "the British way of life" was audacious stuff: if Mr Cameron said such things, Labour spin doctors would smear them as a "lurch to the Right".

Third, and most provocatively, he declared that Labour must be the "party of change". The closing mantra of the speech was "we will meet the challenge of change". To decode: if you want another media-obsessed, shiny public schoolboy, vote Tory. If you want the real deal, vote Labour. After a decade as Chancellor, this is a hard sell. Mr Brown, to borrow Cameroon language, does not look like "the change". But he certainly looks dangerous, the heavy burden of rivalry and resentment at last lifted from his shoulders.

The pace at which he is moving is remarkable. Days after offering Peter Hain's Cabinet post to Paddy Ashdown, he sacked Hazel Blears on the spot, announcing that Harriet Harman, the new Deputy Leader would now be elected party chair ex officio. Tantalisingly, he put the party on a war footing by declaring that Douglas Alexander would be the election co-ordinator. He promised a new start with not a trace of sentimentality. For the first time in his career, Mr Blair was presented as the past.

There will be problems aplenty in the future, but today belonged to Mr Brown. Over to you, Dave.