It is a well known reality these days that whenever the going gets tough for the Government - and especially Tony Blair - Gordon Brown is nowhere to be seen. As David Cameron pointed out on Wednesday, "[i]n the rebellion over trust schools, the vote on the war in Iraq and now the row about cash for honours, every time the Prime Minister is in trouble, the Chancellor disappears". Gordon is like Macavity the Mystery Cat.
The thing is, its not just when the Prime minister is in trouble that Brown does his Houdini act. He's even doing it on matters which, if he seriously wants to become Prime Minister, are his to be dealing with. Take a look at the growing pressure to block Rupert Murdoch from buying anymore of ITV. What has Gordon done? He's palmed it off to Alastair Darling at the DTI to make the decision, less be forced to do it himself.
Why would he do that? Well, let's see his options. If he doesn't block Murdoch he will annoy his backbenches, and any future administrations he may lead will be totally reliant on those backbenches for support. He fears, to coin the Major phrase, the "bastards" behind him in his own party. On the other hand if he does block Murdoch then News international will probably switch its support to the Conservatives, something which he fears even more.
Bottom line is this. Faced with a tough decision Brown won't take one. He hides as much as possible. No wonder he put out briefings saying he planned to be more "collegiate" and "austere" in style in his premiership. He wants the prize, but doesn't want the responsibility. Love or loathe Blair, at least the guy has more balls than a protégé's surname.