Britain: How to Be Blairer Than Blair; Gordon Brown Is Busy 'Tony-Fying'himself to Maintain Labour's Edge

Newsweek International, July 24, 2006 | Go to article overview

Britain: How to Be Blairer Than Blair; Gordon Brown Is Busy 'Tony-Fying'himself to Maintain Labour's Edge


Byline: Stryker Mcguire (With KARLA ADAM)

The voice was prime ministerial and firm. The British government must be "strong in defense, in fighting terrorism, upholding NATO, supporting our armed forces at home and abroad, and retaining our nuclear deterrent. In an insecure world, we must and will always have the strength to take all necessary long-term decisions for stability and security." But it was not Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking. It was Britain's prime-minister-in-waiting, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who likely won't succeed Blair until next year. As his speech last month suggested, the understudy is looking and sounding more and more like the real thing.

This is no accident. The transition from Blair to Brown has begun in earnest. Blair's speeches--with wistful allusions to his nine years in office and to his "personal journey" in politics and government--have a valedictory air about them. Brown's sound like those of a man with one foot already inside the door of 10 Downing Street, unfurling national-security agendas and schemes to improve Britons' work-life balance (appropriately, as he and his wife are expecting a child). "Just as Gordon's speeches look as if he's preparing for government," says Nick Pearce, a former government adviser who now runs the Institute for Public Policy Research, "Tony's look as if he's preparing to leave."

The timing of Blair's departure was dramatically thrown into question last week when Scotland Yard arrested the prime minister's chief political fund-raiser, tennis partner and Middle East emissary Michael Levy, and took him in for questioning in the explosive so-called cash-for-peerages scandal. At issue was Lord Levy's (and ultimately Blair's) role in securing [pounds sterling]14 million in secret Labour Party loans from businessmen, four of whom were later nominated by the prime minister for seats in the House of Lords. Levy was questioned and released, but the incident raised the stunning possibility that police would interview Blair himself.

Even before the scandal, however, Brown had begun to sound not only more like a prime minister, but also more like Blair himself. This is a remarkable turn of events. For the past nine years, and especially since Blair's political fortunes began declining because of the unpopular war in Iraq, Brown has sought to distance himself from the prime minister. This was good party politics for Brown. He solidified his support on the Labour left while Blair saw his own drain away. But by being the anti-Blair, Brown threatened to hurt the Labour Party's chances in the next general election, in 2008 or 2009. Blair's great success as Labour leader has been to win over millions of non-Labour "Middle England" voters by positioning himself in the political center. As it is, Labour's share of the vote has declined in each of the two elections since its 1997 landslide. …

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