An interesting signal in the ether today from Sky News’s political editor Adam Boulton, who has this to say:
It could be said that Tony Blair’s domestic achievements were overshadowed by international misadventures. It may be said that Gordon Brown’s premiership is working in reverse.
For all the travails at home, GB is beginning to cut a substantial (if unshowy) figure on the world stage. He may tour the world in aircraft more suited to rock-star has-beens than international statesman, but supported by a strong foreign affairs team, GB is developing a credible foreign policy.
Despite a wobbly start with the Americans, relations with the White House are back on track. The PM has taken an admirable lead on Zimbabwe and was the lead voice at last weeks EU crisis summit in Brussels. The sceptics are having a field day with the PM’s Jeddah proposals, but he’s taken a risk by being the only head of government to travel here and the ideas put forward are interesting, if untested.
Blair (and Thatcher for that matter) retained a unstinting belief in the UK’s place in the world. I’d argue that Brown is more realistic and, possibly, constructive.
Boulton’s line is worth noting, given that it’s at odds with the prevailing view among the commentariat (c.f. Jonathan Freedland’s verdict earlier this week – “A year in, it’s clear: we got Brown wrong. He is simply not up to the job”).
Still more interesting is the fact that it’s foreign policy that Boulton sees as Brown’s strong suit. In the early days of Brown’s tenure as PM, the general assumption was that Brown was far less interested in matters international than his predecessor (international development being the one exception); for many, his early unwillingness to go to Brussels seemed to confirm the fact.
But Boulton may well be right that things are changing. Brown did indeed show deftness with Bush and Brussels alike last week (notwithstanding an unlucky hat-trick of comms mess-ups: see here, here and here). The PIPA global polling data on trust in world leaders puts him in second place behind Ban Ki-moon. And on top of that, there’s been a definite pick-up of momentum within Whitehall on the PM’s foreign policy agenda, especially on reforming international institutions and on food, energy and climate change. A lot of serious thinking is underway – both on the content of the agenda, and ways to deliver it – and departments seem to be pulling together more than usual.
As David and I noted last year (and I recalled in a post earlier this week), leaders can become statesmen quickly during a period of flux in international affairs like the current global interregnum. It may be too soon to talk about tides turning just yet – but Brown is asking the right questions on the most fundamental global issues, and putting real resources behind the process.