As Chancellor, Mr Brown slowly but surely redistributed wealth between rich and poor, but he did so stealthily, through hidden taxes and complicated tax credits, because he was anxious about losing the support of the electorate if he was open about what he was doing.
Civil servants know that a sure way of getting Mr Brown to support an idea is to put a graph at the top of their policy paper showing how the poorest stand to gain most.
But when it came to his last Budget as Chancellor, Mr Brown wanted to show off with an income tax cut that would look good to the middle classes – even if that meant smuggling through the abolition of the 10p rate, which would penalise low earners.
The Prime Minister criticised his predecessor for triangulating, but it is Mr Brown who is the master triangulator.
He wants to be close – but not that close – to America; he receives the Olympic torch but does not hold it, he signs the EU constitutional treaty but avoids the ceremony; he wants to lock up terrorist suspects without trial but for 42, not 90 days. The danger is that he ends up looking inauthentic.
When one minister asked him a few years ago to sum up in a single sentence what his vision was he replied: “It’s the progressive consensus.”
But consensus is what you need to get somewhere; it is not a description of where you want to go.
One former Labour adviser, Tom Clark, argued over the weekend that the Prime Minister does have “strongly held values” but has failed to get them across because he does not think he can persuade the electorate to share them.
“Brown was never straightforward about what he was doing,” he said. “He was profoundly pessimistic about what the voters would tolerate – and as a result said almost nothing in public that he thought might offend anyone.”
But politicians need to appeal to what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels” of our nature.
In the end it would be better for Mr Brown to annoy half the people by saying what he really thinks, than to irritate all the people by trying – and failing – to appeal to all sides.
Brown might remember Lincoln’s other famous dictum.
You can fool some of the people all of the time. You can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
The trouble for Brown is that Blair was a supreme actor and, by manipulating the media to follow the line, was one of the few people who could fool all of the people all of the time.
Brown trying the same game is a bit like Salieri trying to emulate Mozart, or even more so like Les Dawson playing piano for comic effect, except with Brown the audience feels insulted at being asked to take it seriously, when it is obviously so dreadful.