Stuart Loory, who holds the Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism,
is the moderator for the weekly radio program “Global Journalist.”
It airs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays on KBIA/91.3 FM or at www.globaljournalist.org.
Loory: Tony Blair left office last week after serving 10 years as Britain’s prime minister. Almost immediately after leaving office, he became the envoy for the quartet of the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union and Russia that is interested in promoting a settlement of the Arab/Israeli conflict in the Middle East. Britain’s new prime minister is Gordon Brown, who served as chancellor of the exchequer, and is a long-time Labor Party opponent of Blair. Brown was promised the job after Blair, if he gave up his opposition to Blair as leader of the Labor Party. As U.K. support for Blair waned over his continued support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brown forced Blair’s resignation, finally achieving his goal. “I will try my utmost,” said Brown, a 56-year-old Scotsman, of his new position. “This will be a new government with new priorities.” As Blair left office, he said of the House of Commons, “If it is on occasion the place of low skullduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes.” He also said, “I wish everyone, friend or foe, well, and that is that, the end.” Is it really the end? And what did Brown mean when he mentioned a new government with a new set of priorities?
John Prideaux, political correspondent, The Economist, London: Brown intended for people to hear the word “new.” His problem politically is that he’s been around for some time. He’s been an integral part of this government and so he really has to work quite hard now to persuade people that his appointment as prime minister represents a change rather than a continuation of what went before.
Loory: Does Brown have any real changes in mind?
Ned Temko, chief political correspondent, The Observer, London: At this stage we’re seeing more of a change in tone, which is probably a political calculation. The Brown cabinet is a fascinating bunch because only one senior person has kept the same job, and that is an extraordinary turnover rate in government positions. On the other hand, there are very few unknown faces. There are a handful of young, former Blair-ites, but by-and-large these are people who have handled other big jobs. The trick for Brown is to provide a sense of continuity while presenting himself as a new figure.
Loory: Brown has emphasized what one correspondent called Britishness, or emphasis on British nationalism. Does that forewarn problems for minorities, particularly Muslims?
Temko: There are two things about Britishness that Brown cares about. One is the importance of what he calls hearts and minds in fighting the war on terror. Part of Britishness on the agenda is an attempt to open up a conversation engaging those whom he describes as the moderate, integrated Muslim minority, to peel off problems of extremism and violence. The other fascinating aspect of Britishness is that Brown is Scottish and is prime minister of a country that has devolved an enormous amount of power to Scotland and Wales. So he is sitting on top of a government that will make a big chunk of domestic policy that really doesn’t affect his own constituents because he is an MP from Scotland. He is intent on portraying himself politically as British rather than Scottish.
Loory: The term hearts and minds reminds me of Vietnam because it was the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people that we were allegedly winning in the war. What are others’ feelings on that?
Michael Calingaert, visiting scholar, Center on the United States and Europe, The Brookings Institute, Washington, D.C.: The issue for the U.S., and what your question comes to is, does the arrival of Brown presage any change in terms of British policy towards the U.S.? A constant of British foreign policy since World War II has been to maintain a close relationship with the U.S., and the British have held to that in their own national interest. The other side of the equation is that Brown is clearly pro-American. He admires a great deal about the U.S. and shares its general economic philosophy. So, the reference to British nationalism won’t affect relations with the U.S. or much of the outside world.
Loory: What is Brown going to do to keep from being described as George Bush’s poodle, as Blair has been described?
Calingaert: The circumstances are basically different. It’s not a question now of whether to go to war, it’s a question of how to extricate from Iraq. Brown has said there will be no change in British policy in Iraq. At the same time, there will be a tendency to try to move more quickly than Blair did. The question of the speed of British troop withdrawal mirrors the debate in the U.S., but whatever Brown does will be done in full cooperation with U.S. administration.
Lisbeth Kirk, editor, EUobserver.com, Copenhagen, Denmark: Another question is how Brown will tackle the reform constitution treaty. Blair has offered a referendum on the constitution and now the question is whether there is going to be a referendum in the U.K.
Loory: Is it likely the referendum will take place?
Prideaux: It is unlikely to take place at the moment, but it depends on what goes on elsewhere. The Conservative Party, which has always been in opposition to the treaty, has been a cheerleader for referendum because members see it as a way to determinedly wound any government. But the government’s line at the moment is that this is really a tidying-up treaty and doesn’t alter anything fundamental.
Loory: What will Blair’s role as envoy of the quartet be?
Kirk: The former envoy left the job out of frustration that he couldn’t make it work. So, the job is not well-described and it’s up to Blair to shape it.
Calingaert: Because there are four partners and Blair is nominally representing them, there will be some concern as to whether he is indeed representing them or going beyond the brief. He will have that internal problem and the external one of creating a useful result.
Temko: The external problem is hugely more daunting. Blair knows that it would take a minor miracle to achieve a breakthrough in the Middle East, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t genuinely going to try because this is a political passion of his.
Loory: Will Blair have enough clout with the quartet to convince it to follow through on his policies?
Kirk: It would be naïve to think there is success in the Middle East in the long or even the short term, but Blair is one of the few people who may have the power and trust from different parties to actually make a breakthrough.
Loory: Will Blair ever return as prime minister of the U.K.?
Temko: No. He went out on a high yesterday and that will be the cherished memory.
Loory: Brown certainly has a tough act to follow in the U.K., and Blair has a tough new role to develop in the Middle East. Both men have a lot to do, and the world waits to see if it will be better off because of them.
Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students John Amick, Devin Benton, Hyun-jin Seo and Catherine Wolf.