Gordon Brown's "vision" - for lack of which last October we were denied a General Election, so he said - looks disturbingly deja vu.

His famous clunking fist is aimed not at the Cameronian Conservatives, or the undeserving rich in the City. He has picked public sector employees as his prime target.

They are to get two per cent this year, not a penny more, all of them, regardless of independent commissions or whatever recommend, even MPs. Believe that when it happens.

Gordon pretty well got away with it last year, as Chancellor, by refusing to pay deals for more than two per cent until halfway through the year.

He could claim then that a freeze really was a standstill. The Bank of England was holding inflation close to its two per cent target.

His big-spending years of fat increases for public servants were a recent memory.

No longer. This time nobody can possibly rate two per cent as anything more than a target in a year which has started with 17 per cent on npower fuel bills.

The Retail Prices Index, the one people actually believe, is running at 4.3 per cent. That way a two per cent pay deal is a 2.3 per cent pay cut.

That is where the deja vu comes in. Through the 1970s a string of Governments, starting with Ted Heath and ending with luckless "Sunny Jim" Callaghan, tried to fight inflation with assorted edicts about pay and prices, dividends indeed.

There was a Price Commission, which earnestly examined every proposal to raise the price of anything above a Government-dictated limit.

Mighty trade union barons entered into a "solemn and binding" undertaking not to push their luck. None of it worked.

The only lever the Callaghan Government had left to pull was its own position as an employer.

The result was the "winter of discontent" - mounds of uncollected rubbish in parks, NHS pickets saying which patients looked ill enough to be allowed into a hospital, here and there grave-diggers refusing to dig.

Everybody paid by the Government or a local council joined in for fear of being left out of whatever largesse was handed out at the end of it.

The outcome was Lady Thatcher's election victory of 1979.

That was 30 years ago, but Gordon was an intensely politically aware young man.

He must remember it. But he, too, has run out of levers in a slackening economy.

Surging commodity prices limit what the Bank can do with interest rates. Nor can the Treasury crank up public spending to put some zip back into the economy - the money isn't there.

Still, it is strange that he is picking this fight with public sector workers. Stranger still, their unions are the only paymasters Labour has left, now "cash for honours" has put a stop to pandering to the hopefully harmless vanities of rich individuals.

Or does he have some whopping carrot in mind that will keep the unions onside?

He has already promised to deliver the rest of the "Warwick agreement" struck before the last election.

They will want much more to settle for anything like two per cent.