Gordon Brown: Let The Work Of Change Begin
Gordon Brown fulfilled his dream to become Prime Minister yesterday after more than a decade of waiting and pledged a decisive break with the Tony Blair era.
After spending almost an hour at Buckingham Palace with the Queen – twice as long as the departing prime minister – Mr Brown made a short stirring speech in Downing Street before entering the door of Number 10 for the first time as leader of the country.
Mr Brown, clutching the hand of his wife Sarah, finally stepped out from Mr Blair’s considerable shadow with a promise to heal the divisions within his party and the country over the Iraq war. He also signalled a new, more low key style of government in stark contrast to the flamboyance of his predecessor.
“This will be a new government with new priorities,” Mr Brown said. “I remember words that have stayed with me since my childhood and which matter a great deal today: my school motto, ‘I will try my utmost’.”
There was conspicuously no mention of Iraq, the issue that dogged the final years of Mr Blair’s premiership and he repeatedly emphasised that he could provide the country with the “change” it wanted.
He stressed that his domestic priorities were “change in our NHS, change in our schools, change with affordable housing, change to build trust in government, change to protect and extend the British way of life”.’
Mr Brown said: “This is my promise to all of the people of Britain. And now, let the work of change begin.”
The work began immediately on the first Cabinet reshuffle with the resignation of Patricia Hewitt, as Health Secretary and Baroness Amos as the Leader of the House of Lords. There were reports that Margaret Beckett was also departing as Foreign Secretary.
The bookmakers had also stopped taking bets on Alistair Darling, a close Scottish ally, becoming Chancellor, with Jack Straw, who was Mr Brown’s campaign manager, tipped for Justice Minister.
David Miliband, who resisted calls as the young pretender to challenge Mr Brown, was also being tipped for a big promotion.
In his speech (see right) Mr Brown pledged to build a government that would “use all talents”.
Within hours it emerged that he was in talks with Baroness Williams of Crosby, the former Labour Cabinet minister, who was a founder of the SDP which helped to keep Margaret Thatcher in power in the 1980s.
The cross-party talks were another sign that Mr Brown was planning to keep up the momentum in his first 100 days. The air at Westminster was thick with rumours of a second Conservative MP planning to defect next week. An announcement is also expected on a further symbolic troop withdrawal from Iraq.
President George W Bush was the first world leader to telephone to congratulate the new Prime Minister. French president Nicolas Sarkozy invited Mr Brown to visit Paris in a telephone call late in the afternoon.
In another day of high drama and emotion at Westminster Mr Blair was given the rare accolade of a standing ovation from Labour and Opposition MPs after his farewell performance at the Dispatch Box.
He paid tribute to the latest British casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying he was “truly sorry” for the dangers faced by the country’s Armed Forces. But he again defended his actions over Iraq, telling MPs that British forces were now fighting “for the security of this country in the wider world against people who would destroy our way of life”.
He brandished his P45 and effectively left Parliament with the words: “That is that. The end.
After Labour MPs rose to their feet, Tories looked on, uncertain how to react. But many reluctantly followed suit after David Cameron stood up and urged them to join in.
Yesterday it was announced that Mr Blair has been appointed a special envoy to the Quartet group – the United States, United Nations, the EU and Russia – seeking to broke peace in the Middle East.