| Brutal method
London, June 26: About a year before the last general election, Gordon Brown met a small group of advisers in the treasury to discuss the future.
Amid the usual grumbles about Tony Blair’s reluctance to stand down, one question stood out.
“So Gordon,” asked one of those present, “how would you sum up your vision in just one sentence'” There was a pause.
“Douglas'” said the Chancellor, turning to the man he appointed this week as his general election co-ordinator. Alexander babbled nervously. Then Brown pronounced. “It is,” he said, “the idea of a progressive consensus.”
The “progressive consensus” has become almost as much of a catchphrase in Brown’s speeches and conversations as the “moral compass”. It may not have the masses cheering in the streets, but it is the prism through which the new Labour leader’s first few weeks at Number 10 should be seen.
The “progressive consensus” is Brown’s version of the “Third Way”, an articulation of a desire to shift the political centre of gravity to the Left so that, even if Labour loses power, its values will survive.
It means persuading the voters to support collective responsibility for the public services, welfare and security; it means getting people to agree to pay taxes to help the poor. To translate into the brutal language of Westminster it means: crush the Conservatives to death.
This is the real difference between Tony Blair, the son of a Tory councillor, and Brown, the child of a socialist churchman. The outgoing Prime Minister has a sneaking admiration for David Cameron — he sees something of himself in the young public schoolboy on a mission to change his party.
The man who will take over at Number 10 tomorrow wants to smash his big clunking fist on to the Conservative leader’s head. When asked at a treasury party few months ago what he thought of a speech Cameron had made about Africa, Brown spat out with venom: “Where’s the policy'”He does not just dislike his opponent: he despises him.
Blair once described himself as an ideological “cross-dresser” — “the era of tribal political leadership is over”, he said. The Blairites and the Cameroons are like a Venn diagram with modern, metropolitan social circles that mix in the middle — Downing Street leaving parties in the past few weeks have been full of refuseniks from Notting Hill.
The Brownites are different. They wouldn’t be seen dead in Soho House. Politically, Blair and Brown have a different approach, too. Both are obsessed by dividing lines, but the outgoing Prime Minister has always wanted to create them between himself and his own party.
The next Prime Minister is determined to define differences between himself and the Tories instead. As a businessman who has worked closely with both men says, he is “of the tribe”, whereas his predecessor was a “cuckoo in the nest”.
A minister who is close to Brown says it was “crazy” that Blair got into the position of doing things simply because they would be unpopular with his party. “There will be less about the ‘scars on my back’ when Gordon takes over; it’ll be more about attacking the Tories,” he says.