Brown launches leadership bid with Blair's blessing

General elections will pit the Scot against fresh-faced Conservative leader David Cameron.

Gordan brown 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Gordan brown 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
After a decade of waiting for the top job, Gordon Brown launched his campaign Friday to lead Britain's Labour Party and become prime minister. Tony Blair, who is stepping down June 27, formally endorsed Brown shortly before the Treasury chief began a series of appearances. "He has a quite extraordinary and rare ability, a tremendous talent to be put at the service of our country," Blair said of Brown, who faces no serious opposition in his bid to become party leader and prime minister. "He has shown in his exemplary management of the economy ... that he has the strength, judgement and experience to make a great prime minister," Blair said. Often described as dour, the 56-year-old Brown has been accused of "Stalinist ruthlessness" and of belittling colleagues by a former senior civil servant who worked with him. Former Cabinet Minister Charles Clarke, a Labour rival, last year called him a "control freak". "I don't think we'll see true Brown until the general elections," which are not expected before 2009, said Anthony Seldon, a biographer who followed Blair and Brown. The general elections will pit Brown, a rumpled nail-biting intellectual, against David Cameron, the fresh-faced Conservative Party leader who has been compared to the younger charismatic Blair. Both Brown and Blair won their House of Commons seats in 1983. It was the beginning of a partnership and a long and often bitter rivalry. They shared a Parliamentary office, and when Labour Party leader John Smith died in 1994, both men thought about standing for the leadership. Political legend has it that the two struck a deal at a London restaurant that Blair would be party leader and Brown would run the Treasury until the middle of a second term when Blair would step down, clearing the way for Brown. But that did not happen, and as the years passed British newspapers became saturated with rumors of arguments between the two men. While Blair initially supported the notion that Britain could embrace the common European currency - the euro - Brown quickly shot down the idea, establishing a tough set of conditions for entry. Needing Brown's backing, Blair dropped the plan. Brown stuck to Labour's 1997 pledge to freeze income tax rates while increasing government spending. In a bold move, he also handed independence to the Bank of England, giving it control over interest rates. "I think people will look back on this political partnership and the relationship between me and the prime minister and say, 'well, it is completely unique and you've had a chancellor and prime minister who have worked together,"' Brown said recently. Brown's political ambition surfaced when he was 12, when he started canvassing for the Labour Party. He gained a doctorate from Edinburgh University, in Scotland, having written his thesis on the links between the Labour Party and Scottish trade unions. But beyond his loyalty to Labour, and his long time at the top of British politics, little is known about Brown's real leanings and intentions and where he will take a Labour government. While he is an architect of the moderate New Labour party, and with Blair the leading proponent of its policies in government over the last 10 years, he is also widely seen as being closer than Blair to the core traditional values of old Labour. He has close ties to the US Democratic Party, and was said to have been particularly close to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. US President George W. Bush said Brown was "an open and engaging person." "And I found him to be an easy-to-talk-to, good thinker," Bush said Thursday.