When Gordon moves next door

When Gordon Brown succeeds Tony Blair.

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.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

8 thoughts on “When Gordon moves next door”

  1. Odd numbers and even are on the same side of the street? The English are very strange.
    Also, how do we know Blair isn't just delaying to ride out the resignations? A year on it won't be in the news.

  2. Read the Wikipedia article on 10 Downing Street and it's a wonder the houses have numbers, let alone consecutive ones. The other side of the street is a side wall of the Foreign Office.
    The Downing who built the shoddy houses was rather suitably a spy, turncoat and profiteer.
    I agree that the current incident is meaningless outside Westminster. But Blair's eventual departure won't be.

  3. Gordon Brown is the son of a minister of the Church of Scotland, also known as "the Kirk." This is a Presbyterian church. It does go back to Calvin, through John Knox. They are true Protestants, unlike the high church-low church mixture of the Church of England (they don't have Episcopalians over there, they have Anglicans.)
    And no, the street numbers are not odd on one side, even on the other. But that's not the worst of it. They don't have street signs. When they feel like it, they put a sign way up on the side of a building, but metal signs on poles on every corner? No chance. Doesn't matter though, because the streets wind around and change their name every block or two, unless of course they end or split into three. Once I spent 45 minutes trying to go 6 blocks.

  4. Well since people are talking about the address – does Brown actually live in 11 Downing Street? I seem to recall stories in the press after the election (1997) about how he was going to let the Blairs live there given the space needs of their family.

  5. No. 10 and No. 11 have been opened up into each other. Most of the combined building is office space. There are living quarters on the top floors – an apartment in No 10, and another one in No. 11. The apartment in No. 11 is bigger. Because Blair had children when he was elected and Brown was single, Blair and his family moved into the bigger apartment. But Blair's offices are in No. 10 and Brown's are in No. 11. Brown later got married and has 3 kids but he is still living in No. 10.

  6. JR
    This is called 'first mover disadvantage'. When we invented things like postal addresses, there were no standards so we did what seemed natural at the time. Our railway system betrays the same confusion v. say the centrally planned French and Prussian ones.
    Our phone numbering system is similarly irrational. And our streets are anything but straight and grid like.
    However a couple of points:
    – you've fallen into the American trap of expecting everything to be logical and rational in other countries. But then you risk not seeing what in your own society is tacit, but not necessarily rational or logical (eg you can't run doubledecker buses, because of the way you string wires and build overpasses– we can, doubling our use of urban roadspace and providing an iconic symbol of London for evermore, to untold benefit to the tourism industry).
    The US rail policy is hardly rational– more cars, and less of anything that would help reduce congestion. No one would accuse a California highway interchange of being visually helpful or unconfusing.
    – our postal codes make sense, yours don't. Ours pretty clearly directly, and mnemonically link to a physical area. Saying you 'live in W1' instantly says something, in a way a US postal code does not
    Ours are alphanumeric, so the number of possible combinations is vastly greater than your 5 digits one (yet to meet an American who gives me his 9 digit postal code, and the '7 plus/minus 2' rule of telephone number recall says that no one will remember it). For this reason the Canadians used an alphanumeric system (there are 26 letters, but only 10 digits).
    And your postal codes are only 5 digits, which is far too little granularity. Ours take us down to the side of a city block.
    -the bottom line is not that England is good, America is bad, but that both countries exhibit 'path dependence' just like the QWERTY keyboard. Where you start has a big impact on where you finish up.
    This is not necessarily a bad thing. If cities were designed from scratch, all cities might look like Brasilia and Canberra, rather than like London, Boston, Montreal and New York. Honestly, which would you rather visit and live in?

  7. Valuethinker – actually our postal codes now have 9 digits (called zip+4), which give pretty much the same granularity you mention. Only 5 seem to be required, but increasingly all 9 are seen.

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