This week's Queen's speech with its promise of more mayors and its non-promise of more foxes languished a little in the shadows cast by Gordon Brown's firework display in his pre-Budget statement. It wasn't just the Roman candles - free television licences for the old and the big boost for employee share-ownership - but the direction of his pyrotechnics. Much is made of the third way, not least by the prime minister himself, who has been off in Paris lecturing the (wash your mouth out) Socialist International Congress on its beauties. But for its content, look to the chancellor and his belief that the government can bribe business into better performance so that, painlessly, the tax take rises and deserving causes such as the elderly and socially excluded can be serviced. Here is a politician at the height of his powers, endowed by fortune and the vagaries of the productivity and growth cycles with a specially long period of grace. Minus Charlie Whelan most of the poison in Brown's relationship with Blair has been neutralised, though his intense ambition and envy remain. The Treasury is nowadays a much happier place. Officials have learned to live with and even admire chief economic adviser Ed Balls; there is now an unofficial division of labour which makes permanent secretary Sir Andrew Turnbull the man who runs the place and Ed Balls the man who funnels the advice to Brown. Its contentment rests partly on how it now effectively runs social security policy and, with these tax breaks, has made inroads into the turf commanded by Stephen Byers at trade and industry. Traditionally, the question asked of any government was: who succeeds if the prime minister falls under the Number 9 bus. With the Blair administration a much more searching question is: who on earth could pick up Brown's reins as chancellor. No minister is unsackable but Brown this week looks pretty close to that sanctified state. For many practical purposes, he is the Blair government. It's his vision of private money and public purpose by which Blairism is made manifest.
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