The New Boss
So at last the interminable interregnum is over, bar the send-off for Tony Blair on Wednesday. Gordon Brown is now leader of the Labour party and will be Prime Minister in a couple of days. Harriet Harman has narrowly won the contest for Deputy Party Leader and will be Party Chairman but, interestingly, not Deputy Prime Minister. Plenty of people are now speculating what the new cabinet will look like. Hopefully we will be treated to a purge of remaining ultra-Blairites from any position where they can do further damage.
After preventing Britain from acquiring the human rights enjoyed by the rest of Europe in the EU summit, Blair has one final insult for us. He might be leaving Downing Street, but he's hanging on to Chequers. He's "homeless" apparently. While he's earning rent from his four million pound London home, we are expected to house him at the Prime Minister's country residence (I guess residences of Cliff Richard, Robin Gibb and Prince Girolamo Strozzi were otherwise engaged now that Blair's no longer the Prime Minister). This is either Gordon Brown demonstrating his magnanimity after revelations emerged of Blair's plans to sack Gordon after the last election, or he's just succumbing to pressure from the Blair's who can't let go.
It's still too early to say if Brown's premiership will be substantially different from Blair's but I think the honeymoon period Labour is currently enjoying will be brief unless Brown makes some impressive changes. I'm yet to be convinced there will be any significant change in direction. Just look at the similarities in Blair and Brown's rhetoric at the start of their tenures:
Tony Blair 1997
"We wish to change politics itself, to bridge the gap between governed and government and to try to address the deep seated and damaging disaffection with politics which has grown up in recent years." - 14 May, Speech to Charter 88
"It will be a government that seeks to restore trust in politics in this country." - 2 May, Blair's first speech in Downing Street
Gordon Brown 2007
"One of my first acts as Prime Minister would be to restore power to Parliament, in order to rebuild trust in the British people in our democracy. Government must be more open and accountable to Parliament."
"To build trust in our democracy, I'm sure we need a more open form of dialogue with citizens and politicians to genuinely talk about problems and solutions. "It is about a different type of politics, a more open and honest dialogue," he said.
However, there do seem to be some welcome signs of encouraging developments. Gordon Brown has announced an intention to reverse Tony Blair's ban on demonstrating without permission outside Parliament which has been so ridiculed by the Mass Lone Demonstrations. There is also mounting pressure to hold inquiries into the Iraq war and the July 7 London Bombings. And the long-overdue departure of Lord Goldsmith might mean a shake-up of the role for any future attorney general in the light of his advice on the legality of the Iraq war, the conflict of interest in the cash for honours scandal and the decision to halt the SFO investigation into BAE. Addressing those issues will go some way to restoring a little faith in British politics but they are very small steps. We are also hearing rumours of an early General Election. This new commitment to democracy glosses over the highly undemocratic way Brown won the leadership. I also wonder if Labour can afford to fight an early General Election with the party being so in debt, but Brown may well realise that an early election while he is still riding high on the unpopularity of Blair is his best shot.
On the other hand, New Labour 'reforms' in public services will continue, as will the British presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Brown still seems committed to the idea of imposing ID cards on us. There may be a slight cooling of the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Bush administration but I doubt it will be enough to make much of a difference to either Britain or America although how Gordon performs on the international stage will be interesting to watch. The good thing is that Blair is so unpopular and discredited that it can only help Brown to distance himself as much as possible from him, and the party will probably follow. Unfortunately he's probably unwilling and unable to be radically different, but I think it would be very difficult for him to be even worse than Blair if that's any consolation.