27 June 2007

The Change

Having taken office from John Major on 2 May 1997, Tony Blair is about to pass it on to Gordon Brown. Brown's inbox is... interesting, to say the least.

There is, of course, Iraq. It would be very easy (and popular) for Brown to pull the plug, but can he? If the Coalition were to pull out of Iraq, what would they leave? The likeliest outcome is that the different sides would polarise, lurch to the extremes, and generate more instability and chaos, and when I think of that, my mind drifts to Afghanistan and the Taliban. Whatever Brown does, he faces problems, that may come to haunt him or his successor.

Then there are the nations of the UK. You have opinion formers in England turning on the relationship between England and Scotland, sniffing at the Barnett Formula, and complaining about the West Lothian Question, particularly potent now that the Government is led by Brown. They complain that Scottish MPs shouldn't have to vote on English matters when English MPs can't vote on Scottish matters, and they complain that it's Scottish MPs propping up the Labour Government, as England voted Tory in 2005. Now, the Tories got more votes in England, but Labour got a majority of seats in England, so their complaint is, basically, bullshit, and they know that the voting system delivered this Government, not Scottish MPs. (And they didn't seem to mind Scotland and Wales having to deal with a Conservative government that they didn't want, but hey, they've had ten years to think about the matter)

And that's just England: Brown faces an SNP Administration at Holyrood, and has appointed as his election supremo the man that Labour MSPs blame for their defeat. He has to try to deal with Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness at Stormont, and I suspect that they'll be more troublesome to him when they're working together than they were to Balir when they were on opposite sides. Rhodri Morgan in Wales has always worked to assert his autonomy from Downing Street, and his future isn't guaranteed. He might get a deal with the LibDems (Brown's probable preferred option), but there might instead be a deal with Plaid (which would see the Welsh Assembly Government have to pull further away from London). And there's the option of the Rainbow Coalition, with Morgan being ousted by Ieuan Wyn Jones, supported by the Tories and the LibDems. This is not going to be easy for Brown to sort out.

Staying with constitutional matters, what will become of the House of Lords?

Then there's Europe. Will the new Treaty be ratified? How will Brown deal with events? What about the Euro, is that ever going to happen in the UK?

In fact, Brown is the test to see if he will be different from Blair. Blair's allies ended up being former Spanish PM Aznar (right wing), former Italian PM Berlusconi (right wing), incoming French President Sarkozy (right wing), and in the recent negotiations, the UK's best ally appeared to be Poland, led by the Kaczynski twins (right wing), the political equivalent of the Krays. Now key leftist allies are thin on the ground, but will Brown sit with Prodi, Berlusconi's left wing successor, and Zapatero, Aznar's leftist successor, or will he stick with Sarko?

And that's just a handful. This is what Brown has wanted, but does he know what he's taking on? Perhaps he's going to realise just why you should be careful what you wish for.

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