By Kampfner, John
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 133, No. 4689
He has been biting his nails, waiting for his moment. Gordon Brown has, over the past seven years, run much of the government's domestic agenda. His record on economic management, poverty reduction and international debt relief, his views on welfare, enterprise and public services are well documented. And yet there remain whole swathes of policy, especially foreign affairs, which he has observed from the sidelines, often with frustration. So how would he conduct Britain's relations with the rest of the world and how would he deal with those aspects of public policy that have yet to come under his thumb? Here is a guide to the hidden policy world of the prime minister-in-waiting.
For all his public protestations of support, Brown has drawn some sharply critical conclusions about the way Tony Blair has conducted foreign policy. The processes have been, in his view, as alarming as the outcomes. Blair's reliance on personal relations and his belief in his powers of persuasion have struck the Brown camp as naive, at best. Granted the benefit of hindsight, the Brown approach during the frantic weeks before the Iraq war would have been to stick with the UN process, to see the relationship between the British Prime Minister and US president as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Brown would have insisted, I am told, on a second UN resolution, and would not have acquiesced on multilateral action so quickly.
Brown has a well-chronicled affection for America and was heavily influenced by the economic thinking of the New Democrats in the early to mid-1990s. Yet he feels Blair underplayed his hand with the Americans. "Tony operates on the basis of influence," says one official who has seen the two men close up in the international arena. "Gordon operates on the basis of interest."
Would Brown have gone to war against Saddam Hussein? Possibly, but a Brown government might have insisted as a condition for its support on a slower timetable, and have taken a far less personalised and rhetorically moralising approach to the conflict. As for future military deployments, Brown has not been converted to the school of thought that saw Kosovo as a moral template for humanitarian intervention. He kept his public proclamations of support for that conflict to a bare minimum, but behind the scenes was furious that Blair seemed to want a blank cheque for military spending in return for persuading Bill Clinton to take part.
Brown has long viewed the military establishment as one of the worst exponents of financial irresponsibility. He has little time also for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an institution, although he would be keen to cherry pick those officials he respects into his inner sanctum. Whenever he travels abroad, Brown makes a point of not staying at the residences of British ambassadors, to avoid being taken "captive" by the FCO. Brown has learned from Blair's mistakes and would not, I am told, take the word of his intelligence chiefs as gospel.
On Israel, the otherwise pragmatic Brown is curiously passionate. He is strongly influenced by the experience of his father, who as a Church of Scotland pastor visited the Jewish homeland several times during the early, idealistic years of its establishment. Brown, like Blair, was identified by the Israeli embassy as an up-and-coming politician and from the early 1990s was assiduously cultivated. In recent years, he has been at least as enthusiastic as Blair in attending meetings of Labour Friends of Israel. His views about the peace process are, however, meticulously middle-of-the-road, adhering to the standard template of a two-state solution. The extent to which Brown as PM would challenge Israel over issues such as settlements, targeted killings and bulldozing of houses would provide an early test of his priorities.
What of other areas of what briefly came to be known as an ethical foreign policy? …