Gordon Brown: The TIME Interview

The front-runner to replace Tony Blair spoke with TIME about the job and working with President Bush

  • Richard Pohle / Atlaspress

    British Chancellor Gordon Brown is applauded by Prime Minister Tony Blair while acknowledging the audience following his speech to the Labour party conference in Manchester in 2006.

    TIME: You're rumored to be planning a 100-day program of big policy initiatives as soon as you become Prime Minister.

    Gordon Brown: That's not my aim, actually. You cannot do what people assume politics was about in the old days; you cannot just pull levers and expect things to happen. I don't see politics as one or two people just making or delivering announcements — it's also about winning public support and the public enthusiasm. You've got to win public support.

    So, if you're talking about the battle against terrorism you've actually got to win hearts and minds. If you're talking about the environment you've got to persuade people to exercise personal and social responsibility. If you're talking about global economic competition you've got to persuade people to upgrade their skills.

    TIME: A lot of politics now revolves around being telegenic. Does that part of the job worry you?

    GB: Obviously you want your arguments to be well presented as well as well thought through. But because of the scale of the challenges that every country faces — whether it's terrorism and the need for security... or economic competition and the need for new policies for prosperity — I think people are looking to politics not for gestures, they're looking to politics for a seriousness about addressing the challenges ahead.

    TIME: When did you first engage with the world outside the UK?

    GB: Normally you travel abroad a lot for a first time when you're a university student. I spent my summers in hospital because I had a series of eye operations from an injury playing rugby, so a lot of my original plans for foreign travel were frustrated.

    Now I've got a very strong relationship with America, from many years' standing. I've visited the main centers of Europe pretty regularly over the years. My father being a minister of the church, missionaries start to be the first influence you have on hearing about what's happening in the developing countries, in India as well as Africa. My father also used to visit Israel twice a year so I learned quite a lot about the Middle East.

    TIME: What captures your imagination about the U.S.?

    GB: America is the country that obviously people identify with liberty and opportunity, but essentially the ideas of liberty came originally from America's association with Britain. We were the country that pioneered the idea of liberty. The idea that no monarch should be able to rule arbitrarily and that there had to be accountability was actually British, and the American Revolution was built around that idea. In fact both sides in the American wars of independence claimed to be basing their case on the idea of liberty. So the values that Britain and America hold in common are essentially part of the same intellectual tradition.

    TIME: You've just met President Bush for the first time. How do you anticipate that relationship developing?

    GB: I think the relationship between Britain and America will always be strong and for the very reason I've given... You can't predict what events and what decisions will have to be made in the future, but I still say that relationship will be very strong in the future of Britain. If you have values that you share, if you have continuity over the ages, if from generation to generation you've found common purpose.

    TIME: Yes, but on a personal level... Personal relationships do have a bearing on the way these things develop.

    GB: Absolutely. You can never predict how these things will work themselves out, and I don't want to make any assumptions, but I believe the shared interest that is founded on shared values is a very potent foundation for all relationships in the future.

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