Gordon Brown; A Rugby Player in a Rumpled Suit Is in Line to Take over from Tony Blair

By McGuire, Stryker | Newsweek, December 26, 2005 | Go to article overview

Gordon Brown; A Rugby Player in a Rumpled Suit Is in Line to Take over from Tony Blair


McGuire, Stryker, Newsweek


Byline: Stryker McGuire

When future British historians look back at these times, they may see a few similarities between John Major and Gordon Brown. Today, the 54-year-old Brown is chancellor of the Exchequer--the job Major held until he gained the post of prime minister, replacing the larger-than-life Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Now Brown seems poised to follow the same route, taking over from present-day Britain's dominant politician: Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Brown can only hope the analogies end there. Major spent seven competent but colorless years in office. One of Brown's closest allies, a man who doesn't want his name publicly attached to a disparaging remark about the former prime minister, recalls being in the United States during the Major years: "Everybody there thought Thatcher was still prime minister."

Brown has excellent odds of avoiding such humiliation. A formidable politician in his own right, he and Blair have made up the most successful and durable chancellor-prime minister team in British history. Sometime before 2009, when the next election is expected, Brown will take over from his boss, who has vowed not to run for a fourth term. (Brown's camp is betting on a handover in 2007.) It may be quite an adjustment for Americans--and not only for George W. Bush, who regards Blair as his most loyal and powerful ally in Europe. Anyone accustomed to Blair's rhetorical skill and well-tailored presence will find Brown a very different sort of leader.

Brown is a powerful orator himself, if less theatrical than Blair. He grew up in a modest, austere home as the son of a Church of Scotland minister. In his trademark rumpled suits and drooping socks, he exudes the no-nonsense, bulldog mien of the rugby player he once was (a kick to the head in high school cost him his sight in one eye). His reputation for dourness is not entirely deserved; the adjective has stuck partly because he's a Scot and partly because he has spent the last eight years in charge of the Treasury, and therefore isn't supposed to have a sense of humor.

His skills as a statesman remain to be seen. Blair and Brown have markedly different political styles. Blair is generally viewed as relatively intuitive, while Brown is more intellectual and strategic. Someone who admires and has worked with both men (and who doesn't want to offend either of them) has told friends that the differences can be summed up as follows: Blair reads pamphlets; Brown reads books.

Less ardently pro-Europe than Blair, Brown considers himself an "Atlanticist"-- a great believer in close U. …

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