September 13, 2006


The Succession: What really happened in Britain last week? (PETER STOTHARD, September 13, 2006, Opinion Journal)

There is no chance now of the "orderly transition" that was the official hope for so long. If Mr. Blair is bundled out fast, his allies, who had been planning a nationwide Farewell-to-Tony triumph, will be as bitter against Mr. Brown as Margaret Thatcher and her friends once were against Prime Minister John Major. If there is a long goodbye, the Blairites might be happier. But many long suppressed Labour poisons will still come to the surface during the campaign.

Those who like to see rationalism in politics--and that includes most of the thinkers who support Labour--are amazed that this has been allowed to happen. Fights on policy between prime ministers and chancellors are nothing new: one such brought down Lady Thatcher. But this fight seemed to be about a mere few months on the Downing Street calendar, spurred suddenly by an ill-judged refusal by Tony Blair in a newspaper interview to set any fixed point for his departure. That failure to sense the mood on his street (a common failing of a top dog isolated too long) turned quickly into meetings at which Gordon Brown demanded ("blackmailed" as Mr. Blair's representative was authorized to put it) that the prime minister set a date by which he would be gone. Resignation letters from Mr. Brown's junior allies, with the threat of more to follow, forced Mr. Blair to the 12 months promise. Mr. Brown also wanted Mr. Blair to back his candidacy and to call off his own attack hounds, both demands which Mr. Blair has so far withstood.

Was this all as irrational as it looked? What really happened in Britain last week? Did Mr. Brown lose control of his allies? Did he get suddenly more frightened of Mr. Cameron, who is reciting directly and successfully from the New Labour playbook of the 1990s? The answer is simpler. This change at the top could never be smooth. There was always going to be a big fight in this back alley. The TB-GB traumas are too old and deep. It may surprise Mr. Blair's American admirers to know that their man is not seen as honest and true to his neighbors as he is to his faraway friends. Mr. Brown's admirers have also got a good deal more to learn.

Moving to Bill Bradley's Left cost Al Gore the 2000 election, leaving George W. Bush free to claim the mantle of Clintonism -- entitlement reform and free trade in particular -- unchallenged. David Cameron already seems a better Blairite than Gordon Brown, but if there's a real leadership fight and Mr. Brown too jags Left he's electoral toast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2006 10:43 PM

Our president only has to fight his opponents, mostly in the opposition party, sometimes within his own party. But he never has to worry about losing his job to someone stabbing him in his back. May be the Brits should impose a term limit on her PM, so the ambitious ones don't have to re-enact "Et tu, Brute?"

Posted by: ic at September 14, 2006 4:31 AM

Their politics are on the brutal side indeed. I may be full of it but I think the whole country wants to jag left. I think Mr. Brown will accommodate this move. There's a lot of pressure there in the UK to undo some things. Hard to say who will prevail.

What I've seen in my travels and work there makes me agree with the author that he's looked at quite differently at home.

I still like the guy because he truly gets it.

Posted by: Tom Wall at September 14, 2006 4:52 AM

Most of the country is happy enough with Blair, and somewhat sceptical of Brown.

The Labour party itself has a core of hard-lefties who hate Blair - but they're irrelevant anyway. Brown's simply tired of waiting for the job.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at September 14, 2006 10:08 AM