- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2005

LONDON — Britain’s chancellor of the treasury, Gordon Brown, dubbed the “iron chancellor” for his strict stewardship of the British economy, is widely regarded as the prime minister in waiting, after playing a key role in Tony Blair’s re-election campaign.

The fact that Mr. Brown, sometimes called “Tony Blair’s human shield,” appeared alongside the Labor leader for much of the campaign was viewed as reassuring the party’s supporters who were unhappy with the prime minister’s backing for the war in Iraq.

But Mr. Brown, 54, who has overcome personal tragedy to steer Britain along a path of sustained economic growth, high employment and lower interest rates, could yet have to wait a while longer before taking over the top job.

Mr. Blair has pledged to serve a full term in government, effectively four more years in office. However, the fact that Labor’s majority has been cut in half may lessen Mr. Blair’s desire to stay on.

And it may happen sooner than expected. British press reports late yesterday said that Labor members of Parliament, angry over Mr. Blair’s leadership and election results, had decided to ask Mr. Blair to step aside within a year.

This would see the fulfillment of what is said to be a long-standing promise by Mr. Blair to step down in favor of Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown became Britain’s longest-serving finance chief, without interruption, last June.

He beat a record set almost a century ago by David Lloyd George, who served as chancellor for seven years and 43 days from 1908 to 1915.

Mr. Brown became chancellor following the Labor Party’s return to power on May 1, 1997, after 18 years of rule by the right-wing Conservative Party.

One of his first moves was to hand decision-making on central interest rates to the Bank of England, rather than government, a move praised for bringing stability to monetary policy.

Famed for “prudence,” Mr. Brown waited until 2003 before loosening the purse strings, when he allowed Britain’s budget deficit to exceed 3 percent of gross domestic product to improve public services.

Under Mr. Brown, the British economy has grown steadily, with annual GDP growth of 2.75 percent on average since 1998, Labor’s first full year in power after re-election.

Unemployment is at its lowest level in 30 years, inflation is under control and interest rates fell to the lowest point in almost 50 years — at 3.5 percent — in mid-2003 before creeping back up to a current 4.75 percent.

The son of a Presbyterian Scottish pastor, Mr. Brown is a personable figure in private, but lacks much of Mr. Blair’s charisma.

His image was considerably softened in January 2002 when Jennifer, the first child for Mr. Brown and his wife, Sarah, was born prematurely and died. He returned to work a month later.

An academic prodigy who briefly became a television journalist, Mr. Brown entered Parliament in 1983, the same time as Mr. Blair, and was seen as the far more likely leader.

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