They have been called the Lennon and McCartney of politics:
visionary harbingers of generational change, international A-
listers with a global following, formidable partners so intertwined
it is hard to think of one without the other.
But British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of the
Exchequer Gordon Brown may wince at the analogy. After all, John and
Paul's harmonies eventually gave way to discord and dissolution. And
Britain's foremost political relationship has long since fallen
Every few months a new set of anecdotes swirls around
Westminster, detailing the strident antipathy that supposedly
divides the prime minister and his right-hand man.
Yet for all the attention given to conflicts between Brown and
Blair, their relationship is perhaps most remarkable for what it has
not done: create gridlock. Indeed, the rivals have presided over
what has been, by most measures, a fairly ambitious and quite
The situation puzzles political observers. After all, dissident
acolytes are little tolerated in other polities. It's hard to
imagine Presidents Bush or Vladimir Putin sitting back while a rival
schemes for their job.
With Britain heading for a likely May general election that
Labour is expected to win again, the longstanding rivalry raises
several questions. Why has it festered so long? And why has Blair
not dispensed with his turbulent chancellor?
'We Can Work It Out'
"Life is very short," sang John and Paul, "and there's no time
for fussing and fighting my friend." Political life is even shorter,
but so far Blair and Brown have not let rancor end their careers.
The press have dubbed the bickering the "TB-GBs." Some say it
dates to 1994, when Blair leapfrogged Brown to lead the Labour
Party, making his old friend a mere sidekick.
The strange quality to this rivalry is that both men know they
need each other.
Brown has an impressive eight-year economic track record that has
undermined the claim that Labour cannot manage the economy. Subdued
inflation, high employment, low home-loan rates, successful
antipoverty measures - it's a list that Blair himself praises.
The chancellor of the exchequer is also more popular with
traditional Labour, a constituency Blair cannot afford to alienate,
particularly as many are still unhappy about the Iraq war.
"That is the difference between the prime ministerial and
presidential systems," says John Curtice, professor of politics at
Strathclyde University in Glasgow, Scotland. "Mr. Brown has his own
power base within the party and cannot be ignored."
But Brown likewise cannot do without Blair. The telegenic prime
minister is still more likely to appeal to wavering, middle-class
voters than his aloof, intellectual counterpart. One commentator has
likened it to the fable of the frog and scorpion, both needing each
other to cross the river. …