There haven’t been many occasions over the past couple of years when both T Blair and G Brown can be said to have had a good day – but I reckon last Wednesday was one of them.
TB left the House of Commons to a standing ovation; GB finally got what he’s been waiting for for so long. But I fear the warm glow of satisfaction will be short-lived; I can’t help wondering how long it’ll be before normal service is resumed.
Just consider: Blair wouldn’t have gone this week if Brown hadn’t threatened a coup last Autumn. Brown wouldn’t have threatened a coup if he hadn’t become convinced that Blair’s word could no longer be trusted. Not since Cain and Abel has a relationship between two grown men been so destructive.
As for that Commons ovation, what was that all about? Labour MPs had been fretting for months about their opinion poll ratings under Blair, so how come suddenly he was their hero? And the Tories, well, since when did they suddenly decide that he was the best thing since sliced bread? The words “sentimental” and “hypocrites” spring to mind, although of course, I wouldn’t dream of using them.
I was struck when we spoke to voters in and around Birmingham on Wednesday evening how many seem to think they know all they need to know about Mr Brown. Sure, we’ve seen enough of him over the past decade, but it’s been very much a monochrome image. Now we get the full colour version. Whether you find it an improvement or not depends, I suspect, on your taste in political colour schemes.
How fascinating, though, that he has chosen Mark Malloch Brown, former UN deputy secretary-general, to be his minister for Africa, Asia and the UN. This is a man who was deeply loathed by the Bush administration while he was at the UN (the feeling, I think it’s fair to say, was mutual) – and who, for a top diplomat, was stunningly undiplomatic on our programme a couple of months ago when he delivered his less than favourable verdict on Tony Blair’s foreign policy achievements.
I know a lot of you find all this politics stuff less than enthralling. But you will know as regular readers of this newsletter that I believe passionately that politics do matter. (By the way, next week will mark my 100th newsletter: if you feel like celebrating, why don’t you try to inveigle two more of your friends into becoming subscribers? You know you want to …)
Political honeymoons don’t last long these days. (Ask David Cameron …) Mr Brown has an impending US Justice Department investigation into BAE Systems to deal with, to say nothing of that continuing Scotland Yard investigation into cash for honours. And how long will it be before he and his predecessor fall out over Middle East peace initiatives? Is the world big enough for two British prime ministers to strut their stuff on the global stage?
Oh, and did I mention Iraq? I didn’t get the impression when I spoke to the Iraqi foreign minister last night that he was entirely confident about the new PM’s commitment to keeping troops there much longer. And the deaths of three more British servicemen on his first day in office will certainly have reminded Mr Brown of his responsibilities.
So, yes, it is a new chapter. Remember when John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher in 1990? In his very first parliamentary speech as PM, he announced he was abolishing the hated poll tax. Don’t try to tell me Gordon Brown isn’t capable of an equally dramatic gesture. If you care who runs the country and what they intend to do about schools, hospitals, pensions, the environment and our relations with the rest of the world – well, I’m sorry, there’s nothing for it: you’re just going to have to carry on tuning in.
And yes, yet again I have to remind you that our friend and colleague Alan Johnston is still being held captive in Gaza. It’s nearly 15 weeks now, which is 15 weeks too long. Please don’t forget him.