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UK asks: What kind of man is Gordon Brown?

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Author Topic: UK asks: What kind of man is Gordon Brown?  (Read 54 times)
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« on: July 01, 2007, 07:23:06 am »

UK asks: What kind of man is new PM?
POSTED: 7:10 a.m. EDT, June 27, 2007
By CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley

Tony Blair congratulates Gordon Brown after he is confirmed as new Labour leader

LONDON, England (CNN) -- When Tony Blair strode across a Manchester stage on Sunday June 24 and declared, "the new leader of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown," it was the moment his Downing Street neighbor had been waiting for, with growing impatience, for 13 years.

As chancellor of the exchequer, chief finance minister, over the 10 years of Labour government, Gordon Brown has proved his mettle at the top level by delivering the longest continuous period of growth the British economy has ever seen. He was bold enough to hand control of interest rates to the Bank of England. But what kind of man now takes on the role of Britain's prime minister?

Peter Kellner, chairman of YouGov Polls, says: "Whereas Tony Blair came to politics ideologically light, Gordon Brown came ideologically heavy. He is the son of the manse, son of a Church of Scotland minister where social values and moral values were drummed into him at a very early age and he's held fast to those values."

Brown himself in his acceptance speech emphasized the "moral compass" his background has provided: "Duty, honesty, hard work, family, respect for others. That is what my parents taught me and it will never leave me."

Brought up in Kircaldy, Scotland, Gordon Brown was a child prodigy. He won his way to Edinburgh University at only 16 and took one of the best degrees in decades. He was then elected rector of the university at 21, a post often held previously by former prime ministers.

But one desperate accident interrupted his progress. After a blow playing rugby he lost the sight of one eye. He had to lie in the dark for four months and faced a series of operations to save the sight in the other. His university friend Jonathan Wills says: "Gordon's never known how long he's got his sight for. He's in a hurry."

In a hurry, but he's had to wait. Longer than he'd thought after he and Tony Blair did a deal back in 1994 on who got first crack at the party leadership and the chance of becoming prime minister. Brown thought Blair would have been long gone by now. But Blair has only gone because of his and Labour's growing unpopularity over the Iraq war.

In recent years the two have clashed furiously behind the scenes. Blair cut free of Labour ideology, Brown emphasizes his party roots, declaring: "You don't defeat the Conservatives by imitation or just by better presentation but by Labour policies and Labour reforms, grounded in our Labour values."

To recoup Labour's fortunes and to prove himself an election winner in his own right Brown's task now is to signal change without condemning 10 years of Blair's Labour government. So he's sending strong signals on style changes. Less informal 'sofa government'. Less glitz and glamour. Less spin. No holidays in pop stars' homes. He insists: "The party that I lead must have more than a set of policies. We must have a soul."

Blair had the reputation of reaching parts of Britain's electorate that all previous Labour leaders had failed to reach. If Brown is to reach them too, if he is to win support from those outside Labour's core vote, he has to reassure Britain's middle classes he doesn't want to tax them to the hilt, a process he began in his final budget by announcing a surprise cut in the basic rate of from 22 percent to 20 percent next April.

As for those wondering what Tony Blair's successor will bring to Britain's international stance there are likely to be few surprises. Brown is just as keen as Blair on helping Africa but rather more skeptical than his predecessor on the European Union. Although transatlantic links will remain strong -- Brown regularly holidays in Cape Cod -- his relationship with George W. Bush will be personally cooler. Blair has paid a political price for his closeness to the U.S. president and Brown has nothing to gain from chumming up with a president of declining powers on the way out. His focus will be on the outcome of the next U.S. election.

The outside world will wonder what change a Brown premiership might bring on Iraq. The answer is not much, at least to begin with. Brown visited Iraq recently and declared: "We've made promises to the UN about our responsibilities. Other countries are involved with us. This is not the right time to talk about numbers. It's the right time to say I not only applaud the troops for what they are doing but we will keep our promises."

But the image is forbidding. Dour. Uncuddly. Brown has the reputation of a cliquish control freak to counter. Even his friend Jonathan Wills says: "You have to be totally loyal to Gordon. If you work in his network and he'll be totally loyal to you, he'll stand up for you but if you're not then you are out ..."

After Blair, the great communicator, will that prove Brown's undoing? Pollsters like Peter Kellner agree the public don't see him as a man with whom they'd want to share a drink. "But they do regard Gordon Brown as being strong, as being tough, as being experienced and I think most people would say those are the qualities that really matter when people are choosing the prime minister." MPs suspect that after 10 years of Blair's slick soundbites the pubic may be ready for a plainer, heavier style.

It is a serious politician in every sense who'll move into 10 Downing Street. But Brown has been used to running a single department with tight control. He has been used to taking decisions slowly and deliberately. He has little patience with the schmoozing side of politics, a large measure of which goes inevitably with the transfer to No. 10.

Suddenly Brown will have to carry the can for everything that goes wrong instead of being as invisible as T.S. Eliot's Macavity when tricky issues face the government. A politician who feels more comfortable in a small huddle will have to meet and greet all and sundry. The man who likes to spend months making decisions, filtering the options through a range of studies and commissions, will be forced into the instant reactions required of a modern prime minister with little more than instinct to guide him before the cameras. The politician who has been able to define himself by standing for something subtly different to what his next door neighbor in No. 10 was offering, and so shoring up his position within the party, will now be the one by whom others define their positions.

It is a very significant change of role and what his party doesn't know yet is how well Gordon Brown will cope with the change of pace. And whether he'll prove the same kind of election winner as Tony Blair.
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