Everyone thinks that Tony Blair is distraught at the thought of Gordon Brown taking over from him, but there are consolations? After all, what better way to continue the love affair with the British public than to leave them when they are still clamouring for more and to be replaced by someone who can’t even get the camera angles right in his campaign launch. Who managed to get a door slammed in his face on national television on his big day. Blair’s characterisation of the Chancellor as “the great clunking fist” after the March budget has fixed Brown’s image in the public mind. Leaden, stiff, heavy, inelegant and brutal. The cartoonists are already getting to work.
Blair has had more farewells than Sinatra and that has made deprived his successor of the gift of novelty. Brown looks worn out even before he starts in the job, at least by comparison with Blair, who seems to be handing over to the older man.
The Chancellor has been forced to carry the spirit of Blairism into the future by agreeing to red lines on the war, terror, detention, id cards, Trident, nuclear power, and market driven public services.
Brown is a brilliant politician, of course, and will no doubt have a few surprises up his sleeve. His greatest asset is his youthful ministers – Yvetter Cooper, Ed Balls, David Miliband, Douglas Alexander, James Purnell – who will be elevated to senior cabinet positions. The new PM will signal a generational change even though he is not part of it. Brown will confound critics of his control freakery by pretending to give power away, to independent boards, specialist committees, co-opted business figures. He’s even hinted at non Labour figures entering government in some way.
But he will never escape the shadow of Tony Blair, and the constant comparisons of their respective styles. Blair has prolonged his leave-taking to such a degree that Gordon Brown has been forced to mate with his ghost. How can we be sure Blair is really gone? We can’t. The most successful Prime Minister in Labour history will be a living reminder of the limitations of his successor. Unless, that is, Gordon Brown decides to drive a stake through his heart.