Saturday, June 30, 2007

David and Gordon: New British Prime Minister and the Atlantic Alliance

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has stepped down on 27 June. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has succeeded Blair’s position.

Who is Gordon Brown? Let me review his personal history briefly. He is very smart and well versed with economic policy. At the age of 16, he was admitted to enroll the University of Edinburgh, a top college in Scotland from where Charles Darwin and Arthur Conan Doyle graduated. As a member of the Blair cabinet, he was the No. 2 and chief economic policymaker. Britain has been enjoying booming economy since Tony Blair took office. Today, its per capita GDP is above that of Japan’s. Through his economic policy, Britain can satisfy both ends meet: American styled open and flexible markets and European commitment to social safety net (“Britannia Redux”, February 1, The Economist).

As a politician, Gordon Brown no star appeal as Tony Blair does. He is good at striking a subtle balance rather than trumpeting idealistic values (“Brown May Loosen Ties to Bush”, May 11, Washington Post). This is traditional to British leaders from Elizabeth Ⅰ, William Pitt the Elder and the Younger, to the Marquess of Salisbury. Britain succeeded in managing power games among European Great Powers. However, good sense of balance does not always help this job. Arthur Balfour was smart, but did not have convictions.

Some British Prime Ministers played a leading role to prevail universal ideals throughout the world, such as Lord Palmerston, the Earl of Rosebury, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher. Consistency is very important to be a great leader, as well as sense of proportion. Sometimes, Gordon Brown is criticized for inconsistency, as seen in the debate on nuclear possession. In the past, he was a leading advocate for British denuclearization. Today, as a member of New Labour cabinet, Brown supports Trident replacement for continual nuclear deterrence.

Gordon Brown defeated a hard left candidate John McDonnell for Labour leadership. However, this does not necessarily mean that centrist New Labour is deep rooted. Soft left rebellions against Blair’s public service reform reflect sentiments among Labour MPs in general, according to the Economist (“How much is Left the Left?”, May 17). As it happened in the Trident debate, they constrain Brown’s leadership within the party.

With Brown’s some weakness, can the Conservative Party roll back under David Cameron? He has not articulated his policy stances, although Norman Lamont, Chancellor of the Exchequer under the Thatcher administration urged him to do so. As I mentioned in a previous post, “Green Conservatism”, David Frum at the American Enterprise Institute criticizes Cameron’s policy, and label it “empty conservatism.” Actually, Cameron is nicknamed David the Chameleon, because of his inconsistency. Cameron explored election partnership with leftist Liberal Democrats, just in order to defeat Labour majority. In the Old Testament, David won against Goliath. In real politics today, Gordon is in much better position than David.

Speaking of foreign policy, I need to say another David, new Foreign Secretary David Miliband. BBC comments that Miliband’s critical stance to the Iraq War and commitment to greenhouse gas reduction implies that Brown will not likely to act closely with the Bush administration as Blair did (Profile: David Miliband, 28 June). But I don’t think it matters so much, because no one knows who the next US president is. As Britain shares vital agendas with the United States, such as missile defense in Europe and R & D of the Joint Strike Fighter, it is unlikely that the new administration undermine this relationship. Rather, it is noteworthy that BBC mention the appointment of Secretary Miliband suggests Brown’s willingness to explore closer ties with Asia and Africa.

Brown will be prudent enough not to provoke negative sentiments with the United States by suggesting early withdrawal from Iraq. He is regarded as Euro-skeptic, because of his stance against single European currency and Brussels legal authority on criminal justice, according to the Economist (Gordon Brown and Foreign Affairs, June 14). To the contrary, Dick Leonard, former Member of Parliament and columnist of the European Voice, argues pragmatist Brown will commit to Europe furthermore in order to defend vital British interests (Foreign Policy Centre, Article 371).

Gordon Brown is expected to play crucial roles between America and Europe. Issues range from Iraq, Iran to common European security. Also, his policy to Asia and Africa needs more attention. In domestic politics, Cameron’s Conservative Party will not pose much challenge to new prime minister for the time being. Can Brown manage soft lefts within the Labour Party? For Britain and the World, everything remains to be seen.