When Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister just a few years ago, he enjoyed an somewhat extended honeymoon with the British press and public. There was some degree of sympathy for the Scottish politician because it was well-known why he’d had to wait so long to reach the top of what Benjamin Disraeli called “the greasy pole.”
Brown entered politics at about the same time as Blair, and, as every schoolperson in Albion knows, the two young backbenchers, early on, came to an agreement that Blair, with his particular blend of charm and amiability – what we Yanks would call “people skills” – was the one who should be the first to attain leadership of the Labor Party and then to enter 10 Downing Street, while Brown would serve as his second-in-command and then succeed him. (Such arrangements don’t really happen in America; try to imagine RN stepping aside to let Nelson Rockefeller be the nominee in 1960 because the New York governor was better liked by the “right people,” and agreeing to be in the vice-presidential spot with an option to seek the big prize in 1968.)
And so it came about that Brown, after over a decade of waiting, reached the pinnacle of his career. But in the last year, especially with the onset of recession in the UK and a number of messy domestic scandals, Brown has steadily sank in the estimation of voters, and even more so with the press.
Today, the London Evening Standard features a column by Dominic Sandbrook, the eminent Oxford historian whose books include a biography of Eugene McCarthy and a study of the 1960s in England, and who wrote one of the most perceptive assessments of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland last year. The article is entitled: “Vengeful, brooding and secretive – Will Brown become our own Nixon?”
Sandbrook primarily draws comparisons between Watergate (specifically Charles W. Colson’s activities in 1972) and Brown’s use of political operatives to undertake what some of the Tory pundits on Fleet Street are calling “dirty tricks.” He refers to both Brown and Nixon having intellects far above the usual run of politicians, but when the historian refers to RN’s achievements in foreign policy during his first term, he appears to be well aware that nothing in Brown’s career comes close to approaching the opening to China or the SALT agreements – or, indeed, the major domestic accomplishments such as the environmental initiatives of 1971. However, as an example of how the 37th president is seen by overseas intellectuals nowadays, the article’s worth a look.