Monday, May 21, 2007

It's The Politics, Stupid

There's reportedly growing concern in Washington that Gordon Brown will change British policy on Iraq once he becomes Prime Minister. White House officials are apparently briefing President Bush that Mr Brown will quickly reverse Tony Blair's now-familiar 'shoulder to shoulder' stance, possibly announcing British troop withdrawals shortly after taking office.

The main argument against it is to avoid upsetting the Bush administration. But the Bush administration won't be there for too much longer, and with no control in Congress, is just about as lame a duck as we've seen in the US in decades. Although Mr Brown surely won't go for a Zapatero-style 'troops out now' gambit as soon as his feet are under the desk in Number Ten (that would risk annoying everyone in Washington, rather than just the Bushies), I think there's a good chance of an early announcement of a gradual pullout.

With Labour still lagging in the polls, Mr Brown needs to produce some bold moves once he finally takes over to wrest the initiative from the Tories. All we've heard so far - those various mutterings about constitutional reform - won't be enough. A quick declaration on Iraq would achieve the double whammy of immediately distancing himself from Tony Blair's most unpopular policy, and proving (not unlike when he made the Bank of England independent on his first day as Chancellor in 1997) that he's a man who takes big decisions. If things go well and Labour rise sharply in the polls, the odds on a snap election this autumn may start to narrow. The decisions Mr Brown makes on Iraq will be all about the politics.

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