There’s a peculiar storm in a teacup raging in British politics. A camarilla of supporters of Gordon Brown, Blair’s deputy since 1994 and uncrowned Tsarevich, has tried to bounce Blair into handing over sooner rather than later. It hasn’t worked, but Brown is smiling. He’s backed Blair for the umpteenth time in words as finely shaded as one imagines Talleyrand’s to Napoleon. (Video link)
Connoisseurs will especially appreciate the phrase “I, like others, have had questions myself.”
It’s a near certainty that by next summer Brown will have moved from 11 to 10 Downing Street. Does it matter to anyone else?
There’s no domestic policy gap between the two; centrist “New Labour” is their joint creation. Brown, not Blair, is the policy wonk. Early in his long and very successful stint as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he made the mistake of citing “neoclassical endogenous growth theory” in a speech. He was ridiculed for showing off – but not because anybody thought he didn’t understand what he was saying.
Their characters are very different. Both are throwbacks to William Ewart Gladstone, not only in free-market ideology but in combining a preachy moralism, based on a religious faith that’s rare in Britain now, with political streetfighting skills of a high order. Both are Scots; but Brown is far more stereotypically Scottish, with a dour Calvinist work ethic. (
He’s Episcopalian (update: I can’t confirm this) but Calvinism soaks down with the rain.) Brown dislikes Old Labour trades unions, and is obsessively committed to private-sector involvement in public services – dubiously in the case of hospitals, absurdly in that of London Transport. But he is a genuine foe of inequality, and has delivered impressive reductions in child poverty in Britain, and brokered last year’s debt reduction deal for Africa. A man of great achievement himself, he has stayed loyal since childhood to the floundering local soccer team Raith Rovers, “regularly attracting gates of 1500+”.
Do you see this glum, calculating Scots Ph.D, a deeply serious, very intelligent man you would trust with your life savings and flee from at a party, as having anything in common with George Bush? I don’t. Nor would he see any advantage in mortgaging his reputation to the cynical White House sharks as Blair has done to his cost. Brown keeps a very low profile on foreign policy, under his deal with Blair, but here’s an interesting little exchange from a softball Newsweek interview dated May 29:
Q.What do you think of the war in Iraq?
A. I was a supporter of the war in Iraq.
This from a man who could easily bore you for ten minutes extempore on the merits of symmetrical inflation targets for central banks. I bet that within six months of Brown taking over, the British Army will be gone from Basra.