Jim Wallis’ words last week about new U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown were an encouragement to see him as a politician with a conscience—a man genuinely committed to addressing questions of injustice. I hope that Brown is able to follow through, but there are a few challenges.
Chief among them is the fact that he supported Tony Blair’s policies, including not only such noble enterprises as the Northern Ireland peace process and the introduction of the minimum wage, but also the huge mistake of the war in Iraq. He did not raise concerns publicly against it, and has even said that he would have done the same thing as Blair had he been in charge in 2003. This is a serious problem for anyone who hopes he represents a decisive break with the foreign policy errors of the previous administration. We may take comfort from the fact that Brown has indicated support for a major investigation into the war, and his private beliefs may well be more suited to the path not yet taken. He has appointed a young Foreign Secretary known to hold progressive beliefs and to have questioned the war, but a thorough questioning of the reasons for the war may only be the beginning of a departure from Blair’s tragically failed policy.
Secondly, in the 10 years that Brown was Chancellor, while the U.K. got a minimum wage for the first time, and many people were helped to return to work through a ‘new deal’ program, the gap between rich and poor widened, the private equity industry mushroomed, and the tax burden for the rich was relatively unaltered. How will he provide the kind of moral leadership that recognizes that the poor cannot be released from poverty without it costing the rich? Will he have the courage to develop truly re-distributive economic policies?
Thirdly, the British public is used to hearing stories of fearsome conflicts with Blair, and a deeply controlling management style. These stories may or may not be true—but Gordon Brown needs to prove that he is not a control freak. He may have already begun this, by announcing this week that he was willing to give more power to Parliament, including surrendering or limiting the power of the executive to declare war. And while he is not the most charismatic public speaker, his response to the failed bomb attacks in London last Friday did sound the right note of reassurance.
I do hope that he proves to be, as he calls himself, a ‘conviction politician.’ He cares about addressing the root causes of injustice, and knows that defeating terror is a struggle of ideas at least as much as it is a matter of practical security. On these two counts alone, he deserves to be given a chance to prove himself.
His cabinet appointments this past week have been progressive; his vision for eco-towns suggests a greater commitment to environmental stewardship than has ever previously been visible in British politics; his understanding of the U.S. suggests that the ‘special relationship’ may be about to become mutually beneficial once again, rather than one in which the U.K. merely serves neo-conservative interests; he may indeed believe in the idea of a foreign policy based on something more than national self-interest; and the very fact that he has said he is willing to ‘learn the lessons’ of the Iraq war mean that there may indeed be room for optimism about a Brown premiership. While we still feel that we don’t know what he is really like, and he has not yet earned our trust, there now exists an opportunity for Gordon Brown to put the principles of mutual respect, equity, and social justice learned in a Scottish manse into practice. I wish him well.
Gareth Higgins is a Christian writer and activist in Belfast, Northern Ireland. For the past decade he was the founder/director of the zero28 project, an initiative addressing questions of peace, justice, and culture. He is the author of How Movies Helped Save My Soul and blogs at www.godisnotelsewhere.blogspot.com