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Blair/Brown rivalry

JP Raud Dugal

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I have just watched Brown's speech for his budget in the Commons. I know that there is a rivalry between him and Blair for years.

Can the R. Honorable gentlemen of the list explain to me if it is just ego or on true basis?

Is it a threat to the New Labour as a leader?

Can we imagine a division such the one between Heseltine and Thatcher in 1991?

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I am not a right honourable gentleman but I do find this debate interesting. New Labour has descended to the situation where rivalries are not even cloaked in ideology. There are no principled differences between Blair and Brown...there are few enough between Howard and Blair.

It is believed in some trade union circles, usually among the left of the bureaucracy, that a switch to a Brown leadership would satisfy the unions that there has been enough change in New Labour to justify continued union support.

At the moment the payment of political funds to the Labour Party is not because Labour can be expected to carry out policies which favour the working class......rather that they would be *even worse* if the unions did not hand over the modern equivalent of danegeld.

Brown does not challenge Blair on the war. Brown does not challenge Blair on privatisation. Their differences seem to be superficial in the extreme.

I think that the trade unions which are still affiliated need to consider breaking with New Labour to pursue an independant line....if need be putting up their own candidates.

Derek McMillan


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When in opposition Brown was seen as the leading representative of the centre left. This has not been reflected in Brown’s behaviour in government. As Derek has pointed out he appears to have enthusiastically embraced privatisation and the regressive tax policies inherited from the Tory government. To keep the support of the left, Brown’s friends have leaked stories that he disapproves of Blair’s right-wing stance on numerous policies. However, this is usually followed by Brown making a speech given his full support to Blair on these issues. Brown is trying to give the impression he is a loyal member of the government but if Blair happened to fall, he would be willing to replace him with a left of centre agenda. The problem for Brown is that he is now closely associated with the right-wing policies of Blair.

Brown is obviously the favourite to replace Blair when he decides to go. However, it all depends how Blair goes. If he is forced out of office for lying to the British public, Brown’s chances of success will be dramatically reduced. In a case like that a critic of the war, such as Robin Cook, might be elected.

I think the actions of Peter Hain recently (especially the publication of his recent pamphlet on democracy in the party) suggests he is interested in trying to attract the left of the party in any future campaign for the leadership. This could cause problems for any future Brown campaign.

The fact that most Labour MPs have loyally supported Blair’s right-wing policies suggests that he will eventually replaced by someone with similar views. For example, David Blunkett or Jack Straw. However, it is difficult to find out if these MPs really believe in Blair’s policies or are just taking decisions based on the need to keep the Labour Party in power.

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Brown is obviously the favourite to replace Blair when he decides to go.

Thank you very much John and Derek for your replies.

I have read somewhere...that there is an Blair/Brown agreement for the next general elections. Blair could retire one year after these elections. Does it make sense?

Moreover, in the Guardian (March 8?) I read that Brown could join the IMF, becoming its next president.

From a french pov, Blair's situation (doing right-wing policy) is mainly due to the fact he succeded a 18 years Conservative leadership on the UK. Do you think that he could have remained at power if he would have done a left-wing policy?

But I'm perhaps (surely) wrong.

Did Brown supported Blair for the war and considered in the UK [as blair] as a xxxx?

Which are the strongest supports of TB in the government?

Sorry again, lots of questions...

Jean Philippe

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I have read somewhere...that there is an Blair/Brown agreement for the next general elections. Blair could retire one year after these elections. Does it make sense?

There has been a rumour (never confirmed) that Brown agreed not to stand against Blair for the leadership of the Labour Party after John Smith died. Apparently, in return, Blair would resign after an agreed number of year to allow Brown to become prime minister.

The real reason Brown did not stand was that he was told that research with Labour Party focus groups suggested he could not win a general election. It was claimed that they felt uncomfortable that unlike Blair, Brown was not a husband and father. There is evidence to suggest that Blair’s supporters were circulating stories that Brown was gay and that the tabloid press (Blair’s mate Murdoch etc.) would reveal this during the election campaign.

Brown therefore decided not to stand and went about getting himself a wife and child (now successfully achieved). He is now ready to depose Blair. However, he is unsure when to make his strike. Some commentators believe he has left it too late and that he has lost the trust of the left. The other problem is that the left have left the party in droves and the right could hold a majority.

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  • 1 month later...

I see that Gordon Brown has had two meetings with Rupert Murdoch. Apparently Murdoch has always seen Brown as a “high-spending taxer” but is being won over by his Eurosceptic speeches.

It has also been reported that Brown has been having meetings with Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Brown's performance on Channel 4 News was a blow to anyone who sees him as an improvement on Blair.

In response to questions about Iraq his answer was that it was a collective decision to go to war and the majority of the British people supported the decision.

This "majority" was in one opinion poll after the government had ignored a hundred which showed public oppostion to the war.

This "majority" was of those who saw the need to go to war to counter an imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction. What imminent threat? Which weapons of mass destruction?

We were told that "The Project" - the rightwing shift in the Labour Party towards privatisation - was necessary because those policies could win elections and the kind of policies espoused by Ken Livingstone could only lose elections. What actually happened today? The precise opposite of what we were told.

In desperation people have had to vote for a rag tag and bobtail of political creeds...this is not good enough. The Communication Workers Union meets next week and will discuss breaking the link with Labour. The unions must break with Labour and start creating a genuine "Party of Labour".

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He's not really the party type - though he does like the odd glass of champagne - so Gordon Brown is unlikely to have celebrated this week's milestone with whistles, streamers and a DJ playing 70s disco. Still, he's bound to be chuffed to have broken David Lloyd-George's record, becoming the longest-serving chancellor since the 19th century.

More than seven years in the job, and his reputation has taken a few knocks: he's a control freak too fond of bafflingly complex tax credits and private finance initiatives; a cabinet bruiser, skilled at antagonising colleagues and too stingy in Labour's first two years. But compared to the comprehensive trashing suffered by his Labour predecessors at No 11, Brown is a wonder. How many politicians stay in any job for seven years and still garner glowing reviews?

Help has come from the division of labour between him and his next-door neighbour. He has been given all but a free hand to determine domestic policy, while Tony Blair has toured the world; he has been Attlee to Blair's Churchill. That arrangement has had a distinct advantage: when foreign adventures have turned sour, Brown has been conveniently distant from the mess.

Some suspect a deliberate strategy, the chancellor ensuring his fingerprints are nowhere near the episodes that have given the government greatest grief, with Iraq the exemplar. They note how rarely Brown stirred himself to make the public case for war, calculatedly fostering the impression that he was a doubter. The Brownite defence would be that the chancellor speaks out more often than is appreciated, but that he understands that foreign policy is ultimately the preserve of the prime minister; any intrusion onto this terrain might look like presumption or, worse, a challenge.

But this studied silence leaves a big and important question, one that gains weight the likelier it becomes that the chancellor will eventually succeed Blair. Put simply, what does Gordon Brown believe about the world? What would Britain's foreign policy be like under Prime Minister Brown?

If the direct public statements are few, that is no impediment. For Brown has built up a substantial record in world affairs, albeit as a finance minister. His greatest international triumph remains his campaign to persuade rich countries to honour their prior commitments and forgive the $70bn in debt owed them by the poorest nations of the earth. But there have been less grand interventions. Brown has met, for example, his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts as well as the president of the World Bank, to shape an economic dimension to the Middle East roadmap. That idea is "in the fridge" right now, admit those involved - waiting on the political stalemate.

In my view, the extension of this logic is that a Brown government would have handled Iraq differently. Knowing that Washington dreaded the prospect of fighting alone, Britain could have demanded more time to build an international consensus. Maybe the inspectors would have had three more months, if only to call Chirac's bluff. If Bush had said no, Britain could have said, "Very well, but you're on your own." Bush would have relented.

For the Brown vision seems to be one of muscular multilateralism, the great powers still being unafraid to act to solve the world's problems - but much more determined to act together. In the case of Iraq that would certainly have brought a delay, but there is no guarantee it would have prevented a badly misguided war.


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  • 3 months later...

In November 2003, Blair promised he would stand down a year later in Brown's favour - so long as Brown helped him through the period ahead, allowing Blair to make a graceful exit. He had to get through Hutton and Iraqi reconstruction, and wanted a couple of domestic achievements. Brown duly cooperated - pulling the plug on a backbench tuition fees revolt which might have proved terminal to Blair, offering a public defence of the Iraq policy and even shelving his own misgivings on foundation hospitals and the like.

Blair pocketed all that help, got through the year - and then promptly announced the deal was off. As an act of political betrayal, it has few rivals. (And now the Blairites have the chutzpah to say it was Brown who reneged on the deal - a deal which, they hastily add, did not exist!) Express dismay at this treachery and Blair's defenders will only redouble their admiration. As one put it to me: "That's showbiz." In other words, politics is a tough game and Brown has simply not proved tough enough for it. Good at governing he might be, but as a practitioner of the blood sport he's not quite top-notch. He lacks the killer instinct.

Yet this story may end in a twist. For what if Blair's skill was not so much in politics, as in short-term politics? Last week's move certainly brought a good instant hit on the TV news, swapping negative for positive coverage. But the after-effects of pre-announcing his own eventual resignation have not been good, even for Blair himself. Cartoonists are already depicting the prime minister as a lame duck. Drawing up the manifesto will be "impossible", says one insider, as former colleagues see each other as rivals in a now-declared leadership contest and position themselves accordingly. Rather than a smooth transition, which would have safeguarded his legacy, Blair has ensured a dogfight which could imperil it.

Brown's long game, by contrast, might pay off. Trusted by the public, eschewing the short-term, quick hits of his neighbour, he remains the natural inheritor when the arrangement announced last week finally breaks down - as surely it will.

There is a touch of the tortoise and the hare about this story. Until now, Blair's darting and weaving has kept him ahead, while Brown's steady plodding has held him in perennial second place. If Brown prevails, he would prove that government and politics are not different disciplines after all, that to succeed in one brings rewards in the other - eventually.


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  • 1 year later...

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