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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Brown panse les cicatrices de l’ère Blair

by Bernard Duraud

British Politics: Brown Heals the Scars Left by the Blair Era

Translated Friday 5 October 2007, by Jonathan Pierrel

Great-Britain. The Labour Party held its annual conference on Thursday 27 September. The British Prime Minister imposed his style but did not announce radically new policies.

For the first Labour conference of the post-Blair era, Gordon Brown wished to turn the page written by the person to whom he has closely been associated as the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the last ten years. The Labour annual conference was held in Bournemouth, in the South-West of England. Far from the glitter and back-stabbing of the past, the new Prime Minister presented himself, to apparent unanimity, as the man of change. Even if the tone has changed, the legacy of his predecessor is not questioned.

Explaining his domestic policy programme in detail, Gordon Brown committed himself to improving British education and used the old refrain: an overhaul of the health system to modernise the NHS. ‘I will not let you down. I will stand up for our schools and our hospitals. I will stand up for British values. I will stand up for a strong Britain. And I will always stand up for you.’

Obligatory schooling up to the age of 18, grants for students, increase of the minimum wage, restoring trust in the government and constitutional changes; as many promises which have been approved by representatives. Other ones were closer to traditional British values such as preventing disorder or promoting family values. This is enough to flatter the conservative electorate; while Brown benefits from favourable polls. According to a You Gov survey which was carried out the day after his Bournemouth speech, the Labour Party was ahead of the Tories by 11 points.

The son of a Presbyterian pastor has clearly scored points by basing his authority on that of the party, by rallying fierce opponents such as Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary, or by keeping Tony Blair, to whom he succeeded on 27 June, out of the limelight. His name was barely pronounced. So, what is to be the new impetus after Blairism? David Miliband, the young Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, devoted himself to the question. He suggested a break with the Prime Minister’s foreign policies, whose decision to engage Great-Britain in the Iraq war was deeply unpopular. He evoked the ‘scars’ of the Blair era and insisted that ‘there never is a military solution.’ Yet, this tune does not question the involvement of his countries with the United-States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gordon Brown described himself as a “good European”, but he did not mention the possibility of a referendum on the new European treaty, which the unions are asking for. He ensured that British interests will be protected and that the ‘red lines’ will not be crossed during the European summit next month.

The context would have been more favourable had the two thousand unionists carrying a ‘message for Labour’ not disturbed the comfortable flow of speeches. At the opening of the conference, the Unite unionists asked to raise low wages in public services, to stop privatisation, to have more security for immigrants and temporary workers, to build moderately priced accommodation. A call to order which does not seem to undermine the confidence of the Labour Party, within which there are persistent rumours of an early election to obtain electoral legitimacy for the Prime Minister. So far, Gordon Brown has not announced anything. He is expected to relieve the suspense very soon.

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