Who follows Blair?

Tony Blair’s likely successor, Gordon Brown, today addressed the Labour party conference. The pressure was on as everyone waited to see whether the frontrunner would trip up and how he would handle the bad feeling caused by his lieutenants’ botched attempt to hustle Blair out of office. In stark contrast to Blair, the speech appears ...

606944_BlairBrown5.jpg
606944_BlairBrown5.jpg

Tony Blair's likely successor, Gordon Brown, today addressed the Labour party conference. The pressure was on as everyone waited to see whether the frontrunner would trip up and how he would handle the bad feeling caused by his lieutenants' botched attempt to hustle Blair out of office.

In stark contrast to Blair, the speech appears better on paper than on TV. Brown, who is  notoriously difficult to work with, conspicuously namedropped his colleagues—including one who has predicted that he would be a "f**king dreadful prime minister." He tried to explain how he would differ from Blair, without appearing either disloyal or inconsistent, explaining that "because the challenges are quite different, the programme for governing will be different." On foreign policy, he effectively ruled out any dramatic break—such as an expedited withdrawal from Iraq—with Blair's legacy by offering fulsome praise for the PM's leadership:

Tony, you taught us something else - and once again you saw it right, you saw it clearly and you saw it through; that the world did change after September 11th. That no one can be neutral in the fight against terrorism and that we – Britain – have new international responsibilities to discharge. 
And let us be clear: the renewal of New Labour will be founded on that essential truth – the need for global cooperation in the fight against terrorism, never anti-Americanism, recognising that the values of decent people everywhere are for liberty, democracy and justice not just for ourselves but for everyone, not least for the poorest countries and peoples of the world."

Tony Blair’s likely successor, Gordon Brown, today addressed the Labour party conference. The pressure was on as everyone waited to see whether the frontrunner would trip up and how he would handle the bad feeling caused by his lieutenants’ botched attempt to hustle Blair out of office.

In stark contrast to Blair, the speech appears better on paper than on TV. Brown, who is  notoriously difficult to work with, conspicuously namedropped his colleagues—including one who has predicted that he would be a “f**king dreadful prime minister.” He tried to explain how he would differ from Blair, without appearing either disloyal or inconsistent, explaining that “because the challenges are quite different, the programme for governing will be different.” On foreign policy, he effectively ruled out any dramatic break—such as an expedited withdrawal from Iraq—with Blair’s legacy by offering fulsome praise for the PM’s leadership:

Tony, you taught us something else – and once again you saw it right, you saw it clearly and you saw it through; that the world did change after September 11th. That no one can be neutral in the fight against terrorism and that we – Britain – have new international responsibilities to discharge. 
And let us be clear: the renewal of New Labour will be founded on that essential truth – the need for global cooperation in the fight against terrorism, never anti-Americanism, recognising that the values of decent people everywhere are for liberty, democracy and justice not just for ourselves but for everyone, not least for the poorest countries and peoples of the world.”

Watching this speech, it is clear Brown plans to try and fight the election on the same Labour “investment” vs. Tory “cuts” platform as last time. It’s an approach that is fraught with risk, as the public increasingly feel the pinch in the pocket but not a commensurate improvement in services. He also sought to portray himself as a man of substance against a man of fluff, the new Tory leader David Cameron. “If I thought the future of politics was just about celebrity and not about something more substantial, I wouldn’t be in politics.” However, all this is likely to be obscured by two events outside the conference hall. First, the prime minister’s wife was apparently overheard saying “that’s a lie” as Brown paid tribute to Blair. Second, a focus group on tonight’s edition of the BBC’s flagship current affair program, Newsnight, will reveal that Labour’s key voters prefer the Home Secretary John Reid, who garnered rave reviews for his handling of the airline terror plot, to Brown as PM. Brown didn’t fall on his face today, but neither did he seal the deal.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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