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Gordon Brown Is Back!

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scotland the brave

It was British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson who coined the term “A week is a long time in politics”, and while Gordon Brown’s astonishing turnaround as British Prime Minister has taken a little longer than that, it has been truly remarkable.

When the British public turn on their leaders, they do it with a viciousness that’s positively medieval. A year ago, Gordon Brown was political poison. In the great tradition of British politics, his Labour Party was openly plotting his demise in the tea rooms and bars of Westminster. His demise was expected in a matter of weeks, and his stoic Scottish demanour combined with an almost uncanny lack of political savvy conspired to hasten it.

But then something happened. Gordon found his mojo. Starting with an unexpectedly stirring keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in September, Brown began to take on his critics in the best way a leader can, by being exactly that – a leader. The speech was a dignified mea culpa of his mistakes and failings, combined with a cogent vision for the future, and it stopped the bleeding.

The speech was followed by another masterstroke. Amid the flailing response by Hank Paulson, the Bush Administration and Congress to the galloping credit crisis and precipitous market collapse, it was Gordon Brown’s plan to buy stakes in the UK banks that, overnight, calmed the waters. First, the Euro-zone and then, unwillingly, the US, followed the Brown plan, and the immediate panic dissipated, virtually overnight. Brown’s status as British political whipping boy was replaced by a standard grudging acceptance by the grudging Brits that he did, well, okay.

Of course, in blissfully naive America, it was the idiotic TARP program that got the credit (even though much of its success came from a watered-down application of the Brown capital-infusion plan), and Brown has hardly recevied the accolades he deserves. Part of the reason for that is that his personality is utterly unshifting. He’s the same measured, unflappable fellow whether Scotland had just won the World Cup, or whether the global econony is collapsing into chaos. To put it simply, he’s not by nature charismatic, nor particularly likeable. Up until now that was a black mark on the guy.

In foreign policy, Brown has signaled that by June of 2009, British troops, with the exception of a few companies of trainers, will be out of Iraq, and that long nightmare will be over. And yesterday, Brown continued his roll. By holding talks with leaders of both India and Pakistan, and putting forward some serious on-the-ground applications of UK counter-terrorism power, he showed what Obama has to do to calm the storm in South Asia. Of course, the UK has a special role in both India and Pakistan. It did, after all run India for centuries before independence and partition. But Brown’s power is not Obama’s. And yet, his calming, stoic influence is now seen as an advantage. He and Obama seem to share that same unflappability, although Obama could sell an Escalade to an environmentalist, and Brown could not.

The next election in Britain will probably be around the same time British troops return to the UK from Iraq, a nice capper for Brown’s comeback. Domestically, Labour should rise in the polls, despite the brutal effects of the recession in Britain. Already, the usual litany of by-election disaster seems to have stopped, and the timing for that turnaround is as good as it gets. There’s a good chance Brown and Labour will win in 2009. The Tories are losing their main talking points by the day.

Brown is a perfect recessionary leader. He was a very good chancellor in many respects (except for his mistake of letting the derivative, and mortgage market totally get out of control, as happened in the US), and his calm, unflappable demeanour is likely to become a huge asset.

Perhaps he will be Margaret Thatcher to Obama’s Reagan. They seem well suited to be close allies. Perhaps the special relationship does have one last hurrah, and together the US and UK can begin a more intelligent assault on the excesses of market capitalism, and in the foreign sphere, on Islamic Jihadism.

Brown is Back. Who would have predicted it. But politics is a funny old game, it really is.

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