Gordon Brown's budget told us many things about the man and also about the media environment that faces the next Labour leader. I will concentrate on two points.
While replacing the 10% income tax band with a two pence lower basic rate may have been a good short term political tactic to wrongfoot Cameron in the Commons and give a tax cutting hook for the Brown one to hang his coat, it is also a heavily regressive move that no Labour government should ever countenance and it will never appease a Tory press sensing Labour electoral blood. It also sets a dangerous precedent about how we fund public services.
Brown more than compensated for the loss of the lower tax band for most of the earners who have children by increasing funding for his bureaucratic tax credits system but for those childless workers who rely on barely survivable wages below 18K they were hit hard. Like any income tax cut, the higher your income the more you gain - this is not a proud move for a potential Labour leader - it is a sign of weakness. Moreover with the total tax take increasing slightly, it will only bolster the charge of Labour 'stealth taxes'.
Whoever Labour elect is going to get a hard time from the Tory press. Years of biased negative headlines day in day out have worn the electorate down despite the fact that the vast majority of people (especially the poorest) are much better off than they were 10 years ago - with better public services and infrastructure (just compare city centre photos of old with today) and finally the Tory years of accelerating inequality are now going into reverse (wealth changes always lag many years behind income changes).
The NHS has better buildings, more advanced equipment, and is treating more people than ever before. Overall, with much higher pay attracting more doctors, teachers, nurses and other public sector staff, I shudder to think how the terminal decline of public services under the Tories would have destroyed our society if allowed to continue - especially considering the growing demand on public services from an ageing population and the rising crime (now falling) bolstered by those blighted by the divide and rule of Thatcherism who are only now passing on their social ills to dysfunctional children.
Yes, there is waste in public services, but the majority of expenditure does improve services (or has raised wages to attract staff that were essential to improving services) and where there is waste it is waste that would have happened under the Tories as well - the burgeoning fashion for and costs of management consultants and PFI started under the Major years. Medical super inflation (accelerating cost of drugs, equipment and negligence insurance) is a product of the corrupt protectionism of the UK/US/EU pharmaceutical industrial complex and expanding lawyer fuelled 'litigation society' that started decades before and sadly continues today. These factors are a worldwide phenomenon (incidently absurdities that arise under this US inspired 'litigation society' are sometimes wrongly labelled 'political correctness' and also used as a stick to hit Labour with - see Boris Johnson).
Brownites such as Jackie Ashley argue that a contest would be damaging to Labour as a contest would inevitably involve supporters of rival factions trading insults and the Tories storing them up as ammunition for an election. But the alternative is worse, Labour's electoral base at 31% is down to the Michael Foot years (below it in terms of numbers of voters). I think we are pretty much as low as we can go with no sign that Gordon Brown could turn this around (the opposite in fact seems the case).
If Gordon Brown really had the best interests of the party in mind, he would welcome a contest. There is no reason why a contest cannot be a shop window for Labour policies and personalities just like the Tory contest was (and if Gordon is good enough - he will win it). Instead Gordon Brown has scared everyone rigid, they are frightened to speak out of turn for fear of Gordon's wrath. Is this really the leader we want? He will lead us to the abyss of another Tory government and we know from past experience that these Tory governments have an uncanny knack of holding onto power for many years once they get there.