U.S. Visit Caps Frenzied Debut for Brown New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is meeting with President Bush en route to a stop at the United Nations. His first month in office has seen terrorist attacks, widespread flooding and change on the global political scene.
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U.S. Visit Caps Frenzied Debut for Brown

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U.S. Visit Caps Frenzied Debut for Brown

U.S. Visit Caps Frenzied Debut for Brown

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

Britain's new prime minister is meeting President Bush. Gordon Brown is at the presidential retreat Camp David. He's only been in office four weeks, yet, in that time, there were attempted terror attacks in London and Glasgow, and then this month brought the worst flooding in modern British history. Now Brown meets the president who had an unusually close relationship with the last British leader, Tony Blair.

We're going to talk about this with Jonathan Freedland. He's a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian. He's on the line. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JONATHAN FREEDLAND (Columnist, Guardian): Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is Brown likely to have such a close relationship with President Bush?

Mr. FREEDLAND: I think he's very unlikely to have the same kind of close personal relationship, and that's partly to do with his temperament and partly, deliberately, to do with his purpose. Firstly, he is just not the same kind of informal, backslapping kind of guy that Tony Blair was very happy playing, at least, with George W. Bush. So that sort of mutual slightly frat boy humor that they would both engage in, that's just not Brown's style. He's a very strict Presbyterian, sober, permanently suited Scot. But also purpose, because Brown knows that it was actually hugely damaging for Tony Blair to be so close to President Bush, who is, like it or not, deeply unpopular outside his own country and especially in Britain.

INSKEEP: Well, let's set aside style for a moment and talk about substance. The big issue here may be Iraq, and people here are wondering if Gordon Brown is going to be the prime minister who takes British troops out of Iraq.

Mr. FREEDLAND: Well, he may be, although not in the dramatic way that that implies. British troops are already being phased out; down from a number once of about 40,000 to around 5,000 British troops now. And the direction of travel is for them to eventually come out. But he won't do that in a big, hasty and melodramatic way that might embarrass the president, which, at some point, people did fear that Blair's successor might say, all right, I'm pulling the troops out. He won't do that.

But once the Americans themselves made the decision that the surge is over and they're coming home quietly, Brown will make sure the same thing happens. And that's because even despite what I was saying about the need to put some personal distance with Bush, Brown is very insistent that he will remain a close and loyal friend of America. He knows that out of the strategic calculus of Britain is that it does need a close relationship with the United States. And he's not going to fundamentally rock that even if he wants to put Bush himself at arms length.

INSKEEP: You suggest there that Gordon Brown is thinking about his public, as any politician would, and making sure that his image relating to President Bush is the proper one, as British voters would see it. How's he doing with British voters so far?

Mr. FREEDLAND: He's doing unexpectedly well. His first month went remarkably well. He had this baptism of fire and water, where there were terror attacks, attempted and failed terror attacks, within 48 hours of his arrival, and then huge floods. People were saying this was going to be Brown's Katrina, huge floods in central England and in the north of the country. And he has, politically anyway, survived both of those and been given huge points for handling them in a very rock solid, steady, reliable way.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

Mr. FREEDLAND: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Jonathan Freedland, columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian.

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