Gordon Brown Moves to British Prime Minister Post

Gordon Brown takes over the British government, replacing Tony Blair as prime minister. Brown is considered to be fond of America — he used to vacation on Cape Cod and reads American literature. Jonathan Freedland, a columnist at the Guardian newspaper, discusses Brown and what the British people expect from him with Steve Inskeep.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

For more than a decade, Tony Blair fielded questions in Britain's House of Commons. And today, he said farewell.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Britain): I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that - the end.

(Soundbite of applause)

INSKEEP: Tony's Blair submitted his resignation as prime minister to Queen Elizabeth II. She then called on Treasury Secretary Gordon Brown to form a government. Brown has been a prominent figure in Tony Blair's government for years, though he is less well known than his predecessor. And we're going to find out about Gordon Brown this morning.

Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for London's Guardian newspaper. He joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JONATHAN FREEDLAND (Columnist, The Guardian): Good morning.

INSKEEP: How is Gordon Brown different from Tony Blair?

Mr. FREEDLAND: His personality couldn't really be more different. He's quite (unintelligible). He doesn't have that telegenic, easy manner. Ideologically, they're very similar. They're both from the modernizing wing, if you like, of the Labour Party. In fact, changing and transforming the Labour Party was very much a shared project between them. They are the co-architects.

But their persona, their manner, are totally different. Tony Blair, very comfortable in the sort of modern celebrity TV age. Gordon Brown really in some ways is from a different era - prides old-fashioned virtues of hard work and diligence, feels much more like a politician, really, from the 1950s or '60s than one from the first years of the 21st century.

INSKEEP: And he's been waiting for years and years for his turn to be prime minister.

Mr. FREEDLAND: He has. I mean, it's an extraordinary story of political stamina by Gordon Brown because there are not many people who have held on to the title of heir-apparent for 13 years, seeing off all comers; plenty of challenges for that role, and Brown has seen them all off. All actually reason to believe he is a much more formidable politician than people might realize, given the lack of sort of celebrity glitz and stardust.

INSKEEP: Well, how is this formidable politician likely to view America?

Mr. FREEDLAND: Well, you'd think, in a way, that there would be a big change because their personalities are so different. And there will be in some ways, but not others. He is, Gordon Brown, instinctively and tremendously pro-American. He's from the Atlanticist wing of the Labour Party, believing in that strong relationship. But it's also personal for him. He used to vacation every summer on Cape Cod. He reads American literature. He reads all the new American political writings. He has a detailed knowledge of American domestic politics. And, in fact, much more are his instincts American than Tony Blair's.

Brown has very good contacts in the United States across the board, very good relationship with Alan Greenspan, former head of Federal Reserve, but also with Senator Teddy Kennedy. He knows Clinton well as well. But the interesting thing about that is it means I think Gordon Brown has a much more nuanced understanding of the United States than Tony Blair did. Tony Blair did not know America well, and therefore in some ways couldn't distinguish between, say, this administration or that. He just knew he was pro-America.

I think Brown has a much more sophisticated and nuanced understanding. And so I think you can expect him to be tremendously pro-American, but not necessarily absolutely unsung and loyal to every move made by this particular Bush administration.

INSKEEP: Does that mean that he's going to be less supportive of the war in Iraq?

Mr. FREEDLAND: I think he will make some signals in that direction, partly because domestic opinion in this country, which is now so hugely against the war in Iraq, needs to feel that a line is drawn under the Iraq adventure, and Brown needs to find a subtle way of doing that.

Equally, I've been told that he, Brown, has sent messages of reassurance that he's not going to accelerate the already planned withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. So he won't go in for the tremendous sort of oratorical defenses of the war that not only Tony Blair did, but were, I know, tremendously valued in the United States.

What I think more importantly is he will be more cautious about any future adventures. The early sounds he's made, for example, about Iran have suggested and strongly abscised diplomacy and multilateral action. So I just think he's going to want to learn the lesson of the Blair premiership, which was, to all intents and purposes, devoured, if not destroyed, by the Iraq war. I don't think he's going to want to make a similar mistake.

INSKEEP: Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for London's Guardian newspaper. Thanks very much.

Mr. FREEDLAND: My pleasure.

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