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.

Brown will still have to campaign for Labour votes across the country along with his rivals over the next few weeks. The candidates will spend two weeks wooing votes and about four additional weeks waiting for ballots to be sent out. An official leader, however, will not be announced until the end of the seven-week period.

Thursday, as Blair bid the nation the first of many farewells, the chancellor praised the prime minister for a decade of leadership.

"I think I spoke for millions of people when I said to the Cabinet today that Tony Blair's achievements are unique, unprecedented and enduring," Brown said in a statement released Thursday. "Many people will remember how he led the country after July 7, how he responded for the whole world after Sept. 11 in America, how he responded to the tragic death of Princess Diana."

Brown's Early Years

Gordon Brown was appointed chancellor of the United Kingdom on May 2, 1997.

Born in 1951, Brown excelled in high school and was put on an academic fast track. By the age of 16, he was accepted at the University of Edinburgh where he majored in history.

Remarkably while still a student, Brown was elected rector, a position he held from 1972-1975. He spent the next four years working as a lecturer at Edinburgh and then at Glasgow College of Technology before getting a job as a journalist at Scottish Television in 1980.

Despite being left blind in one eye as the result of a sporting accident, Brown was elected to Parliament as a Labour member for Dunfermline East (Fife) in 1983, and rose quickly within the party.

Less than five years later, he became opposition chief secretary to the Treasury. By 1989, he was opposition trade and industry secretary and by 1992 shadow chancellor. Finally, in 1997, under the Labour government, Brown was appointed finance minister.

Making a Fresh Start

Blair's and Brown's careers have often seemed to mirror each other, with both being co-founders of New Labour. But unlike Blair, Brown "has given little indication in the past as to what his stance on foreign policy is," according to Macer Hall, political editor of the Daily Express.

Hall echoes what many political analysts have said about Brown: that he has kept a low profile in the run-up to the Iraq War, letting Blair take the lead, and the criticism, when it comes to foreign policy.

"Gordon Brown will want to make a fresh start and will try to distance himself from the war and Tony Blair," Hall told

"But in the long term," he said, "he will carry on with the close ties the last government kept with President Bush. Good relations with the U.S. are part of our history in the U.K."

Walking the Tightrope

But many in the media, such as The Sun's defense correspondent, Tom Newton-Dunn, feel that Brown's most difficult challenge will be maintaining historically good relations with America while appeasing his constituents at home.

"He's got a bit of a tightrope to walk," Newton-Dunn said. "On one side, he's keen to look like he's not George Bush's poodle, something for which Tony Blair has been widely criticized. On the other hand, he's extremely aware that he will be tested on foreign policy and domestic security issues."

If Brown distances himself from the United States, according to Newton-Dunn, he'll be on the receiving end of substantial criticism, particularly from the right.

No doubt if the chancellor moves into No. 10 Downing St., he will want to put his own spin on things. That said, Newton-Dunn maintains that relations with the United States "will change a little bit, but Gordon Brown will still want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the president."

Echoing the views of many, Newton-Dunn said, "Good relations with the United States are such a cornerstone for U.K. policy."

That said, don't expect bear hugs from this new prime minister.

As Newton-Dunn told, "Gordon Brown will probably want to appear a lot cooler."