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Fencing between neighbors



Published: Thu, April 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: The most intriguing couple in Britain these days isn't Charles and Camilla, but the political partnership of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his chancellor of the exchequer -- and next-door neighbor on Downing Street -- Gordon Brown. The prime minister is seeking a third term in office, but the buzz in London is not so much about whether he will prevail in the May 5 election. It's about whether Brown will eclipse Blair at some point afterward as the Labor Party's undisputed leader, and the nation's prime minister.

Polls have been showing the conservatives inching up on Blair, but given Labor's overwhelming advantage in Parliament, the emergence of a conservative majority is unlikely. Moreover, Michael Howard, the Tory leader, can hardly capitalize on Blair's support for the war in Iraq and his close friendship with George W. Bush because Howard also supported the war. The worry now is that the Tories, once in full campaign mode, may go too far in ridiculing the European Union, thereby jeopardizing prospects for Britain's endorsement of the new EU constitution in a referendum expected to take place next year.

Strong economy

Brown was perceived to be a less-than-enthusiastic supporter of the war, and he has been the orchestrator of Blair's greatest triumph -- the impressive stewardship of the British economy, which has put the rest of Europe to shame. Blair and Brown were close partners in the quest to resurrect Labor's fortunes and modernize the party's image by following Bill Clinton's playbook. It was widely assumed that Blair would step aside after two terms and let Brown take over as prime minister. That hasn't happened, and by all accounts, the relationship between the two men has been strained of late.

Blair has been a close friend to the United States, and to both Clinton and Bush. He has tried to serve as a mediator between the U.S. and the EU, and at the same time sought to interject London more deeply in EU affairs.

British voters are content with their lot but weary of Blair, and the danger for him is that pro-Brown forces within the Labor Party might press for change if the party's margin of victory shrinks this time around.




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