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27 Jun, 2007 11:08

Hello Mr Brown, Goodbye Mr Blair

Gordon Brown has taken over as British Prime Minister following Tony Blair's resignation after more than ten years in the job. On his arrival at his new home at 10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown said he felt privileged to be part of a new era in British po

“I’ve just accepted the invitation of Her Majesty the Queen to form a government. This will be a new government with new priorities. I know I’ve been privileged to be granted the great opportunity to serve my country,” said Mr Brown.

It's the first time in 17 years a British Prime minister has taken over at Number 10 without winning a general election.

Earlier, Tony Blair received a standing ovation in the House of Commons at the end of his final Prime Minister's Question Time.  He then travelled to Buckingham Palace to offer his resignation to the Queen. 

However, even in his departure, Blair managed to steal Brown's limelight amid reports he is about to be made a special envoy to the Middle East.  According to the Associated Press, Tony Blair confirmed the news in a conversation with the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on Friday.

Tony Blair's popularity fell sharply in recent years, mostly as a result of his foreign policy.  On his last day in office the parents of soldiers who died in Iraq staged a protest near Downing Street.  In his final address to Parliament, Blair spoke about the war in Iraq and praised the British armed forces. 

“I am truly sorry about the dangers that they face today in Iraq and Afghanistan. I know some may think that they face these dangers in vain. I don’t and I never will. I believe they are fighting for security in this country and worldwide against people who would destroy our way of life. But whatever view people take of my decisions, I think there’s only one view to take of them – they are the bravest and the best,” he stressed.

The man coming out of Tony Blair’s shadow has been at the top of politics for over a decade. And yet he has remained behind the scenes most of the time.

“His challenge is to explain to the British people who he is, and I think the early signs are that he’s not somebody who’s going to be very radically different from the Gordon Brown that we kind of knew about for the last 10 years,” predicts Charlie Beckett, Director of POLIS media programme.

Born in Scotland, Gordon Brown is often referred to as “a son of the manse”.

“All I believe and all I try to do come from the values that I grew up with – duty, honesty, hard work, family and respect for others,” as he himself puts it.

Politics has always been his passion. By the age of 12, he had already pushed Labour Party leaflets through the letter boxes of neighbours' homes. He became a Labour MP in 1983. In the party he was considered to be serious and even gloomy but with a powerful mind and a passion for detail. A man of enormous intelligence – that’s what they say about him. In 2006 he was rated the most successful Chancellor of the Exchequer in modern history. But will he be a successful Prime Minister?

“It is certainly thought that he lacks charisma. He seems to have been working on that recently, by trying to smile more. On the other hand, he may be try to be different to Blair.  Blair in a way was too smooth and charismatic, too involved with celebrities.  And Brown may feel that a government which is a bit less glitzy may be a better and more attractive government to the electorate,” believes Michael Portillo, former cabinet minister of the Conservative Party.

Blair’s legacy to Brown is a raft of challenges – regeneration of a government after 10 years in power, continuing reform of the public services, the future of the EU and the biggest foreign policy problem – Iraq.

“Gordon Brown has been very careful to stay out of foreign policy up until now and he’s given away very little. His instincts are pro-American he spends his holidays in the United States.  He likes the American economy. He doesn’t like the way he has to negotiate with the other Europeans. So here’s a man who’s got to distance himself from the U.S. and be more pro-European, but his instinct is the opposite,” says Quentin Peel, Financial Times Foreign Affairs Editor.

As for Britain’s relationship with Russia, some say this could be an opportunity for Brown to aim for a fresh start.

“I think he’s only been to Russia once in the last 10 years and that was for the G8 meeting and not a bilateral visit. So it’s a bit of a blank page, what Gordon Brown really thinks about the world we’ll all be rather interested to see,” suggests Sir Roderic Lyne, former UK Ambassador to Russia.

Mr Brown is an enigma in many ways. But everyone agrees that the most important thing about Gordon Brown is that he wants to win the next general election. With Tony Blair blamed for making world affairs a priority, many predict that Brown will focus on domestic policy. He prefers the word “change”. And he doesn’t have that much time to prove his critics that he can be a better leader.