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New Prime Minister Brown Pledges Change for Britain

June 27, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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TONY BLAIR, Former Prime Minister of Britain: I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that, the end.

RAY SUAREZ: The contrast in the House of Commons this morning could hardly have been more striking. Tony Blair, who dominated the British political scene and shone on the international stage, on the cusp of handing over power to his long time number-two, Gordon Brown, the taciturn Scot.

Today brought Brown’s moment. After a visit to Buckingham Palace for an audience with Queen Elizabeth, who formally invited him to form the new Labour government, Brown spoke outside Number 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence.

GORDON BROWN, Prime Minister of Britain: I have been privileged to have been granted the great opportunity to serve my country. And at all times, I will be strong in purpose, steadfast in will, resolute in action, in the service of what matters to the British people.

RAY SUAREZ: Brown became leader of the majority Labour Party last month, and thus, with Blair’s departure, prime minister. He’s the first Scot to run the country in more than 40 years.

Brown served in Blair’s government for more than a decade. As chancellor of the exchequer, Brown controlled the treasury, creating an Independent Bank of England. He oversaw increases in public spending for education and health care, made possible by soaring tax revenues. Today he said he would take Britain in a new direction.

GORDON BROWN: I’ve heard the need for change, change to build trust in government, change to protect and extend the British way of life.

RAY SUAREZ: Brown did not mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today; they’ll loom large on his foreign policy agenda. The new premier will encounter a British public now set firmly against the Iraq war. Protesters gathered outside Downing Street today to jeer Blair on his last day.

BRIAN STEVENSON, Stop the War Coalition: I’m very glad to see him go. I’m not sure there will be much of a change in foreign policy, but at least there’s one murderer gone.

RAY SUAREZ: A hundred and fifty three British troops have died since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And although the U.K. has drawn down its forces, about 5,500 British troops remain in southern Iraq.

Brown must also carve out his own relationship with the U.S. and President Bush, as the American administration approaches its final year in office. Blair deepened the Washington-London alliance over the last six years; that led to widespread dissatisfaction within the Labour Party, which Brown now hopes to remedy.

Gordon's economic background

Ed Pilkington
The Guardian
He's widely regarded, in fact, almost universally regarded to have been an extremely successful chancellor. He kept a very tight rein on the budget.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, we turn to: Ed Pilkington, New York bureau chief for the British newspaper the Guardian; and Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former director for European affairs on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Ed Pilkington, as chancellor of the exchequer for a whole decade, what kind of leader was Gordon Brown? And does it give us any insight into what kind of prime minister he'll be?

ED PILKINGTON, The Guardian: I think he's widely regarded, in fact, almost universally regarded to have been an extremely successful chancellor. He kept a very tight rein on the budget. He was also very tough on his colleagues in the amount of money that he handed out to different departments.

And he was probably seminal in preventing Britain entering the euro, the common currency across Europe, which, in turn, has led to a very buoyant economy in the U.K. So altogether, he was tough, he was tight with the purse strings, and he was determined. And I think that's going to be the theme that continues through his prime ministership.

RAY SUAREZ: Phil Gordon, it's a job roughly analogous to secretary of the treasury, but is it good training for the top job?

PHILIP GORDON, Brookings Institution: Well, it is, because you need a solid economy to do everything else you want to do, whether you're Tony Blair, Gordon Brown. You want to improve the National Health Service, and transportation, and education, and you can only do that with economic growth. And certainly 10 years running a very successful economy is a pretty good basis for moving forward to the things he wants to do now.

Low foreign policy profile

Philip Gordon
The Brookings Institution
On the things that have made Blair's foreign policy unpopular, Brown has kept a safe distance, which, as you say, leaves us wondering a bit what his priorities might be now that he's in charge of those.

RAY SUAREZ: If you search the public record though, he seems to be almost an unknown quantity when it comes to foreign policy.

PHILIP GORDON: He's kept a very low profile on foreign policy. I suspect that he's quite glad to have been chancellor of the exchequer during these 10 years or certainly the last four or five, when Tony Blair was becoming increasingly unpopular because of the Iraq war. Now, Gordon Brown supported it as a cabinet member and didn't distance himself for it or criticize it, but he's also not associated with it.

He has steered quite clear of those aspects of foreign policy. He's done aid to Africa and foreign aid and some economic foreign policy, but on the things that have made Blair's foreign policy unpopular, Brown has kept a safe distance, which, as you say, leaves us wondering a bit what his priorities might be now that he's in charge of those.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ed Pilkington, can you fill that in a little more?

ED PILKINGTON: Well, you have to bear in mind that Gordon Brown, even within the United Kingdom, is a rather unknown quantity. I get the impression over here talking to colleagues and friends in America that he's very unknown here.

But in Britain, too, his style is very, very closed. He's given very little away over these last 10 years. And I think what he's going to have to do is walk a difficult tight rope, particularly on Iraq. On the one hand, he now must be seen to be his own person. He has to set himself independent of Tony Blair and what happened with Iraq, but on the other hand he cannot be seen to be weak on terrorism and nor will he want to break the special relationship, so-called, with Washington that has set the theme for British foreign policy for now more or less 50 years.

Desire for a change with Iraq

Ed Pilkington
The Guardian
He's under pressure to distance himself from the invasion of Iraq, and I think slowly over time he'll speed up withdrawal. But he's not a man to break relationship with a country [the United States] that he loves very deeply.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ed, in his first speech as prime minister, he prominently mentioned reforming the National Health Service, upping the amount of money per student that's spent on schools, two very prominent domestic issues in Britain, but did not at all mention Iraq. And isn't that what's driving the public opinion right now?

ED PILKINGTON: Well, it is, and this is why it's going to be so difficult for him, because certainly the entire party, the Labour Party, wants to see him follow a different route now with Iraq. And so does a majority of the British people.

And yet, as I said, he can't be seen to be weak on terrorism. And so far he's only gone as far to say that mistakes were made in Iraq. He hasn't specified what those mistakes were, in his opinion, and he hasn't specified what he's going to do to rectify them.

I don't think there's going to be any dramatic change in policy. I think that would be unlike Gordon Brown in this instance. He's a very controlled, determined politician who will take careful steps in the direction of withdrawal, maybe slightly faster, maybe slightly bigger than he's already laid down from Iraq, but there's going to be nothing dramatic, I don't think, in the first instance.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Philip Gordon, taking that idea, that he inherits the Blair policy on Iraq, do we know what his attitude toward that policy was during the years when Tony Blair was one of George Bush's most prominent supporters on the planet?

PHILIP GORDON: No, we don't really, because, as I said, he deliberately kept a very low profile on this. He didn't want to be associated with it. It is said that he was much more skeptical than Blair, who did it not only to show that he was supportive of the United States -- we know how pro-American Blair was -- but also because he genuinely believed in it.

Tony Blair really thought this was the right thing to do. Long before President Bush was even president, Blair was talking about humanitarian intervention and the necessity of saving lives and using our force for good, almost in a neoconservative sort of way. So Blair genuinely believed in all this. It's not clear that Brown shared any of that view. And he has been very careful not to be associated with it.

RAY SUAREZ: Is he a person with a lot of association with the United States, well-wired here, well-known in government circles?

PHILIP GORDON: He is. That's precisely the way to put it. He's well-known in government circles, and he's well-wired here in his small world. The financial system he knows thoroughly, and he knows all the key players. And he comes here often, not so publicly, but he sees all of those people.

He's not well-known here, and he doesn't have a lot of broader experience in the United States. And that's about all we know about his instincts on this question. Again, Blair we know was just absolutely of the view that Britain and America had to be close, and that's how he managed, of course, to be very close to the Clinton administration but then very close to the Bush administration, as well.

On these bigger questions of the relationship, Brown's view is less clear. What is certain though is that his public opinion is now deeply hostile to American foreign policy and the Bush administration. And I think that's the real point. Even if Tony Blair were still the prime minister of Britain, there would be pressure on him to move away from the United States on some of these key geopolitical questions, as there will be on Brown now.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Ed Pilkington, is the American administration now dealing with a very different situation in the government in London?

ED PILKINGTON: Bear in mind that Gordon Brown is fantastically keen on America. He always has been. He's steeped in its history and politics. He comes here every August for holiday. He loves the place, actually, so essentially more than Tony Blair did when he came to power. And that's going to be in a bedrock.

I don't think he's going to be in a mood to break the special relationship or have a big fight with George Bush. He's not that kind of person. On the other hand, he is under pressure to take a different line. He's under pressure to distance himself from the invasion of Iraq, and I think slowly over time he'll speed up withdrawal. But he's not a man to break relationship with a country that he loves very deeply.

A different style from Blair

Philip Gordon
The Brookings Institution
He knows himself he's not dynamic and telegenic like Tony Blair, and he's got this Iraq burden around his neck that's going to weigh on him.

RAY SUAREZ: And what about personally, Ed Pilkington? Today's L.A. Times called Gordon Brown the "anti-Blair."

ED PILKINGTON: They're very different men. They've got very different styles. You saw that outside Downing Street today. Gordon Brown's speech today couldn't have been more different from 1997 when Tony Blair came to Downing Street with cameras and crowds and razzmatazz.

Today, Gordon Brown was very sober, he was very muted. He spoke in almost somber terms, and that's going to be the style of the man. He's going to be much more serious in public than Tony Blair was, much less charming. And that's also his weakness, because he's got a major opposition in the form of David Cameron, the new Tory leader, the Conservative leader, who, like Blair, is very charming, he's youthful. He plays well with the television, with the cameras. Gordon Brown doesn't. He's not that kind of person. He's got a job on to woo over the British people, I think.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, and Philip Gordon, as Ed Pilkington mentioned, you've got this personal difference, but, very quickly, before we go, he may have to run to keep his job any time now or as long as two-and-a-half to three years from now?

PHILIP GORDON: Yes, he can wait that long. It's partly up to him. Of course, he can call an election if he feels he would win it sooner but not later, so it could be accelerated. But I think he also knows it's going to be an uphill struggle. Popular opposition leader, he knows himself he's not dynamic and telegenic like Tony Blair, and he's got this Iraq burden around his neck that's going to weigh on him.

RAY SUAREZ: Philip Gordon, Ed Pilkington, gents, thank you both.

ED PILKINGTON: Thank you.