The Man Who Would Be Prime Minister

On Thursday, Tony Blair made it official: In a speech to the nation, Britain's prime minister said he would step down after more than a decade in office. His last day will be June 27.

Now it's up to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee to find Blair's successor. The committee will meet as early as Sunday, when members will announce a timetable for potential candidates to compete for the leadership. The process is expected to take as long as seven weeks.

Until then, Blair will continue as head of the ruling Labour Party.

But many in the media feel that this election is an exercise in futility, because Blair's successor is widely expected to be Chancellor Gordon Brown.

According to them, the prime minister's early departure comes as a result of a previous agreement made with Brown when he willingly stepped aside to let Blair run for the Labour leadership in 1994. In exchange, Blair would hand over power to Brown at a future date.

Still others say that the decision to hand over the reins to the chancellor came in 2004, when Blair faced harsh opposition to the war in Iraq as well as doubts over his health after suffering heart problems. Facing increasing pressure from his constituents within the Labour Party, Blair finally agreed to step down by September 2007.

Gordon Brown: The New Prime Minister?

Assuming the succession proceeds as planned, the biggest question on everyone's mind will be: What will Gordon Brown be like as prime minister?

As finance minister, Brown has maintained a relatively transparent policy, pledging to keep public spending under control, and announcing tax breaks for corporations next year as well as increased spending on public education. His stance on the environment is equally clear, preferring incentives to taxes.

But when it comes to Brown as prime minister, his policies are less obvious.

"He's been very good about keeping his cards close to his chest," said Anthony Brown, director of Policy Exchange, a leading London-based think tank, and former chief political correspondent for The London Times.

He added that the chancellor had played a very clever game by keeping so quiet and maintaining what he called an almost "monklike" silence.

He said the chancellor had always been a big fan of the United States, admiring both the country's entrepreneurial spirit as well as the American work ethic.

"He really likes that about the U.S. and has tried repeatedly to import those aspects of U.S. culture here into the U.K.," Brown said.

Brown pointed out, though, that the chancellor was unlikely to maintain as close a personal relationship with President Bush as his predecessor had.

"He will say all the right things, but there won't be the same passion behind Gordon Brown's words as the previous administration," Brown said. "He will just be going through the motions."

Leadership Rivals Go Head to Head

Although the chancellor's relationship with Blair has at times been rocky, Brown is not expected to face opposition for the prime minister's post from within the party, having rallied strong support from the majority of Labour's members of Parliament.

Despite other contenders for the job, most political analysts agree that Brown will most likely be the only candidate to gain the backing of 44 other Labour Parliament members -- the minimum requirement for anyone looking to run for Labour leader.

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