Time to Ascend; Gordon Brown: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Is Chafing to Take over from Tony Blair. but the P.M. Is a Hard Act to Follow

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

Time to Ascend; Gordon Brown: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Is Chafing to Take over from Tony Blair. but the P.M. Is a Hard Act to Follow


McGuire, Stryker, Newsweek International


Byline: Stryker McGuire

When historians look back at post-World War II Britain, they may write that John Major and Gordon Brown had two things in common. They both served their country as chancellor of the Exchequer. And they both went on to become prime minister, each succeeding one of the most dominant political figures of the age: in Major's case, Margaret Thatcher; in Brown's, Tony Blair.

Brown presumably would hope the similarities end there. With little help from the Iron Lady, Major gained the prime ministership upon Thatcher's 1990 resignation. He ran the country ably for seven years but never set Britain or the world on fire. As Blair's chosen successor and a formidable politician in his own right, Brown doesn't look like a man destined to follow in Major's faint footsteps. His acolytes certainly hope not. One of Brown's closest allies, who does not want his name associated with a disparaging remark about Major, remembers being in the United States during the Major years: "Everybody there thought Thatcher was still prime minister."

Having vowed not to run for a fourth term, Blair all but anointed Brown as his successor in the beginning of 2005. Sometime before 2009, when the next election is likely to be held, Brown will inherit that daunting mantle. Before becoming P.M., Blair rebuilt the Labour Party into the center-left powerhouse it now is. He led his party to its historic 1997 election victory, ending 18 years of Conservative Party rule. Today he is a major, if divisive, world figure who went to war alongside George W. Bush.

As Blair's de facto understudy, Brown has had no choice but to be a lesser player. He partnered with Blair in reforming the Labour Party and went on to join the most successful and durable chancellor-and-prime-minister team in British history. His single 15 minutes of solo fame came when he granted independence to the Bank of England, garnering 25 separate articles in the Financial Times the next day. But that was more than eight years ago. A world grown accustomed to Blair's rhetorical flourish and dashing, well-tailored presence will find Brown a very different leader. The son of a Church of Scotland minister, brought up modestly if not austerely, Brown exudes the no-nonsense, bulldog mien of the rugby player he once was, anything but resplendent in his uniform of rumpled suits and drooping socks.

A powerful orator, Brown is, in fact, less dour than he's made out to be. The adjective sticks to him partly because it goes well with "Scot" and partly because the public's impression of him was formed mostly while he was running the Treasury for the last eight years--an inherently serious job drenched in facts and figures. …

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