Why was Brown smiling?
Why was the chancellor smiling, the Lib Dems pension spokesman David Laws demanded to know in the Commons today.
You can see why he asked. There was Gordon Brown sometimes grinning, sometimes heckling the opposition, sometimes even whispering asides to John Hutton (these men, it should be noted, are not political soul mates).
Could this really be the same man who'd fought Blair, Hutton and Turner (whose report the other two had pledged to implement)? Could this be the same man who'd threatened privately to shelve that report?
It was, which leaves an obvious question - what's changed? Since I can't see into the chancellor's head, let alone his soul, here are a few theories with my thoughts on them. (Your musings may be just as valid so please add them below)
Theory 1 - Brown has no intention of doing any of this if he gets to Number Ten.
Today's Pensions White Paper does talk of "our objective" (not "our commitment") to re-link the basic state pension to earnings "subject to affordability and the fiscal position" (which sounds like a Treasury inspired get-out clause).
However, alongside it is a Number Ten "there is no get out" clause. The link is to be restored "by the end of the (next) Parliament at the latest" with the precise date to be set out "at the beginning of the next Parliament". In other words, Prime Minister Brown would have to say straight after an election when he'd do it and - assuming that parliaments run for about 4 years - he couldn’t put it off much beyond 2013.
My view is that Brown would pay a huge political price if he failed to deliver unless war, famine or recession changed the economic and the politics dramatically.
Theory 2 - Brown's only worry was affordability and he made the sums add up.
That is the Treasury line.
Certainly, the costs of the government's plans are a little lower than those in Turner's report. The earnings link is to be restored a couple of years later than he suggested. We're all going to have start working for longer a few years earlier than he'd suggested.
My view is that these are refinements and do not represent the fundamental re-writing of what friends of Brown claimed was an "unaffordable plan in which the sums don't add up".
Theory 3 - Brown had no choice - he'd lost.
That is the Blairite view.
They believe that Gordon Brown got himself into a hole. He adopted an unpopular position out of line with many of his natural supporters in the Labour Party. Once he spotted that he shifted. It's certainly true that Brown often fights and scowls in private only to emerge smiling in public.
My sense is that the Treasury regarded the Turner report as the prime minister parking his tanks on their lawn. They feared that the PM might be tempted to make bold but extravagant promises which he wouldn't be around to pay for. They would rather have left pension reform to a later date when other spending pressures were clearer.
However, they do now accept today's deal and privately accept that they've moved quite a long way.