Sunday, November 9th, 2008 | Obama and the Dems
By Isabel JonesThe relationship between the US and UK is often called “the special relationship.” Yesterday the UK’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced that he is joining Obama’s “moral crusade” in an effort to inject morality (i.e., “government intervention”) into markets. But, will anyone listen to the dour-faced leader who was, from 1997 to 2007 the UK’s longest serving Chancellor of the Exchequer? In his capacity as Chancellor was Brown yet another financial guru who, like Alan Greenspan, either misjudged the antecedents leading to the current economic crisis or who perhaps quietly swept responsibility and regulation under the rug because things seemed good at the time?
According to the Telegraph, Brown, once he became Prime Minister, worked to distance himself from Bush: “During Tony Blair’s tenure, the prime minister had a weekly video-link conference with Mr Bush to discuss the issues of the day…But since Mr Brown took over, the conferences have become less frequent - about once a month.”
Come January 21st, there will be a new President in the White House — a man that attracted cheering crowds 200,000 strong when he visited Europe.
And suddenly the US hears from an increasingly quiet Brown. Brown now broadcasts a message to the US with the catch phrases “internationalist” and “multilateralist”:
“In the 21st century, strength should be measured on what we can build together…we need to demonstrate by our deeds, words and our actions that we are internationalist, not isolationist, multilateralist, not unilateralist, active and not passive, and driven by core values, consistently applied, not special interests.”
Obama can do for Brown what he cannot do for himself. The British electorate finds it hard to believe that Brown understands the trials of living in increasingly austere times and of having to cope with having a tightening budget in a society that has built up a culture of spend today and worry tomorrow.
Brown’s slack jaw and small eyes seem distant and hardened and his long term in government does not put across an image of a man who listens and whose policies one can influence.
Obama, however, has won partly because he seems very close to all the diverse people who elected him. Obama seems to represent ‘the people’ (albeit the American people) in a way that the unelected Prime Minister Brown does not.
PM Brown has managed to react quickly to the financial crisis, with a rescue package totalling £450 billion in cash injections (50 billion), loans (200 billion) and debt guarantee (250 billion). The package was apparently emulated across Europe and was passed before America’s rescue package was passed grudgingly through Congress. Brown seems to be acting like a leader and his previous experience in the treasury may be an asset. Despite the fact that Brown, like Greenspan, was somehow caught off-guard by the financial crisis, he is well placed to have witnessed the various movements which have contributed to the current credit whirlpool and may thus be able to act more efficiently than he otherwise could. He does not appear to be burying his head in the sand (although it would be hard to see how he could!) but is asking for change.
Brown may be able to make effective policy decisions regarding the economy which are broadly supported by the British people (as far as they understand them) but, unlike Obama, he is not going to be drawing hundreds of thousands of people to listen to his policy ideas. Brown can’t sell care. Placed alongside other PMs and US presidents he has little of Blair’s passion, even less of Bill Clinton’s charisma, and if given the choice many people would probably rather have a beer with Bush.
Brown may try to take advantage of the Obama brand so as not to appear past his sell-by-date. But what will Obama get in return? Surely Brown will attempt more than monthly contact with the White House. Whilst, Obama, looking to overcome the charge that his message of hope was only a word, will be seeking to capitalize on an agenda of change. But will nice talk about cooperating on financial problems be enough?
Obama has indicated that he wishes to develop an increased military focus in Afghanistan and — if necessary — Pakistan.
If Brown is asked, would he commit further British forces for new plans of attack in Afghanistan?
What will be the extent and terms of next year’s Anglo-American relationship? Politically Brown has much to gain by playing ball with Obama, but so far Brown’s tenure in Number 10 has been one of scepticism towards the US. Obama is going to be looking to build coalitions of all strips. For better of for worse Obama may be looking to Brown both in terms of market policy and military support.
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