In what must be one of the least surprising announcements he has made Tony Blair today announced he will step down as Prime Minister on the 27th June. What will his resignation mean for Britain’s relationship with America?
During his ten years in Downing Street Tony Blair formed an unsurprisingly good relationship with Bill Clinton and a surprisingly good relationship with his successor, George Bush.
With Gordon Brown almost certain to succeed Tony Blair the Telegraph in the UK and the Wall Street Journal in the US have looked at what this will mean for the transatlantic alliance, and for the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister.
In the Telegraph Con Coughlin describes the centrality of the relationship between Britain and America to Britain’s post war politics. He cites the relationships between past leaders saying Roosevelt and Churchill were united in their attempts to fight fascism, Kennedy and MacMillan and Reagan and Thatcher by the Cold War and Blair and Bush by the threat of Islamic terrorism. Heath, by contrasted, neglected the new PM’s rush to the White House in favour of the European capitals and his subsequent obsession with Europe left the transatlantic relationship at its lowest ebb.
Gordon Brown is unlikely to do the same. He is a frequent traveller to America, for both business and pleasure, and has strong ties with the political establishment, albeit largely on the Democratic side. But he’ll come to office knowing how unpopular his association with George Bush made Tony Blair. Even Brown’s brief “bump into” the President last month raised concern on the Labour back benches; he’ll have to walk a political tightrope between distancing himself from Blair’s legacy and maintaining Britain’s most important alliance.
Even if Brown is tempted to turn to Europe he will find a continent unwilling to forget his frustration of Tony Blair’s wish to join the Euro. Slight antipathy between Britain and Europe is one of the themes of the Wall Street Journal’s article. Europe, it argues, has much to learn from the openness and appetite for globalisation that has made the UK so successful. One of Britain’s responsibilities should be focussing European minds on free trade and economic reforms rather than the constitution; Europe is always stronger when the UK “keeps a hand on the steering wheel.” The UK will always be America’s most trusted ally in Europe, a “new” European bridge to “old” Europe.
But what do we know of the man likely to lead Britain? The Wall Street Journal says Brown “has failed to explain how he would deal with foreign policy as well as such domestic issues as rising crime and Islamic extremism, immigration, health and other failing public services.” Sarkozy had to explain his plans, any putative American President will have to; Brown has not.
After the close relationship between Blair’s Britain and their country Americans are understandably concerned about the views of the man who is likely to be leader of their closest ally. They know the one thing he can claim responsibility for, his stewardship of the economy, has been at best mixed, the welcome independence of the Bank of England contrasted with spiralling public spending and a pensions shortfall. For Americans exchanging the familiarity of Tony Blair with the gloomy enigma of Gordon Brown will be hard. But they should be encouraged by the what the Queen told President Bush in Washington last Monday, “Administrations in your country and governments in mine may come and go, but talk we will, listen we have to, disagree from time to time we may, but united we must always remain.”