Tony Blair is expected to announce his departure timetable on 4th May – hours after his party is expected to do very badly in elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English local councils. Although there is considerable speculation that Gordon Brown may face a leadership challenge from David Miliband, a favourite of Tony Blair’s circle, most money is still on Britain’s Chancellor becoming Britain’s next Prime Minister.
We learnt overnight that Mr Brown had his first serious meeting with President Bush. In what – slightly unconvincingly – has been described as an "unplanned" 45 minute meeting (When does the President ever have 45 minutes just spare in his diary?) the two men reportedly discussed Iraq, Afghanistan and trade liberalisation.
There are high hopes in parts of the Labour Party that a Brown premiership will mark an end to the closeness of the Labour Government to the White House. BritainAndAmerica.com does not expect significant shifts from existing policy. In contrast to the USA’s surge of troops into Baghdad, Britain, for example, is already withdrawing troops from Iraq while Tony Blair is still in Downing Street. Key Brown supporters, including the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, were leading advocates of Britain’s current troop deployments in Afghanistan. Gordon Brown’s own inner circle includes key supporters of Israel and there is unlikely to be a major reassessment of the Labour Government’s support for the Middle East’s most besieged nation.
There may be gestures from an incoming Brown government. Tony Blair has never directly attacked the Bush White House on any policy, for example. With Brown there might, however, be public criticism of the situation at Guantanamo Bay or of the administration’s approach to climate change.
The greatest room for a different approach will probably come with looming foreign policy decisions and, in particular, what to do with Iran. It is conceivable that Tony Blair may have been willing to sanction a hawkish approach to dealing with Tehran although he would not have been able to do so without risking the unity of the Labour party. It is almost impossible to imagine Gordon Brown adopting a hawkish approach to Iran unless the Ahmadinejad regime initiated overtly hostile actions rather than acting through Hezbollah and its other surrogates.