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Nick Robinson | 08:32 UK time, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

NEW YORK: It is a visit like no other. It is the talk of the town. It's the moment the president himself has talked excitedly about.

No, no not the arrival stateside of Gordon Brown. The Pope is in town.

The Pope and US President George BushHours after the pontiff was greeted by George Bush and cheering crowds in Washington, the prime minister slipped into New York almost unnoticed. Like so many visitors to this city he may well struggle to get noticed

Congressman Mark Steven Kirk, an Anglophile who's a member of the UK/US caucus, told me that “He's unlucky… the Pope has removed all of the oxygen from the system.”

So much so that when CBS news ran an interview with the prime minister this week they felt the need to remind their viewers who he was telling viewers that "He's known as the stern Scotsman who rarely smiles. For a decade Gordon Brown was the serious partner in an unlikely political pairing while the affable Tony Blair served as prime minister…”

Now Americans certainly know who HE is. Our man in Washington for much of the time Blair was prime minister was Sir Christopher Meyer who says that “Gordon Brown didn't open his account when he first travelled to see George W. in a particularly successful or auspicious way. So the ambassador in Washington I think will have to work hard, much harder than I ever had to do… because he (Blair) was self-selling… Gordon Brown I think will need some more work."

British officials are trying hard to hide their disappointment that the prime minister is not so much sharing the stage with the pontiff as being shoved into the wings. No, they say, THEY didn't know about the clash when the White House suggested the date for their man's visit.

However, they insist, headlines are far from the only test of this trip. What matters is this message which Gordon Brown has brought with him telling CBS that "European nations want a better relationship with America and I feel I can bring Europe and America closer together for the future. And that's going to be to the advantage of all of us."

That sounds like a Brown-ite version of that Blair-ite offer to be a bridge between Europe and America. A bridge destroyed by the war in Iraq. Brown senses that whether this country plumps for John McCain, Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton - all of whom he'll meet on Thursday - there will be a desire for America to re-engage with the world on climate change, global poverty and much besides.

Simon Rosenberg of the influential New Democrat Network agrees. He told me that "Gordon Brown is being very smart. I think he understands that he'll have an opportunity to help, and shape and guide and really influence the next American president.”

Gordon Brown will press his case for the reform of institutions like the UN, and the World Bank and the IMF to cope with the new challenges of the new world. On Friday he will set out a foreign policy vision with echoes of the young President Kennedy in a lecture which his advisers have dubbed “A letter to America”. Congressman Kirk told me that he sees a fundamental problem with that. “You can't write a letter to America unless Americans know who you are” he says before adding “at this point they don't know who he is. This prime minister has an extremely low profile in the United States. He hasn't done or said anything that the American public have noticed too much.”

Thanks to the Pope and the president of South Korea who's here this week too, few Americans will learn who Gordon Brown is on this visit. Never mind, a prominent Brit has got the place pretty much to himself next week. In fact, he'll be being given an award for his services to transatlantic relations. His name (don't tell Gordon) is Tony Blair.

This is a version of my report on the Today programme this morning.


  • 1.
  • At 09:49 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Emerson wrote:

The meeting with the presidential candidates assumes that Gordon will still be around when 1 of them becomes president. Even if he is still haunting no.10 I think they are likely to view him as more of a problem rather than as the mentor that Nick suggests.

Gordon Brown is in some fantasy land if he thinks the Americans will warm to him with his complete lack of charisma, style and media savvy.

  • 3.
  • At 10:03 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • paul wrote:

Brown is about as good an international statesman as he is prime-minister...

Exactly which other european states does he claim to be representing when he says ""European nations want a better relationship with America" -or is he representing Europe with the same mandate that he has to represents the British people - i.e. none?

  • 4.
  • At 10:13 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Tony, London wrote:

What a hoot. Ot it would be if it wasn't so demeaning to our country.

Who will replace him as PM. It won't be DC; Gordon is going to be sacked long before that can happen

  • 5.
  • At 10:51 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • E Welshman wrote:

Why is Bottler there anyway, when he must have known that George Bush would have been somewhat otherwise engaged? So much for his new PR crew.

After all he must only be there as just another banker, in his capacity as 'owner' of Northern Rock. What other bank 'owners' would get publicity under those circumstances?

If he is there instead as an (albeit unelected) government leader I am sure that the other major UK banks would be justified in crying foul because Northern Rock's 'owner' would be deciding international banking policy which would be known to it in advance of the other banks, giving it a commercial advantage over them.

By taking over Northern Rock, Bottler has reduced himself to being a Bank Manager. I hope he doesn't apply for a job at our local branch.

  • 6.
  • At 11:02 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Rosemary Chamberlin wrote:

You would criticise Brown if he had gone to the US and spent his time on TV and doing photo ops with celebrities. As it is, he is having discussions with bankers and other influential people and it really doesn't matter whether the Pope gets whatever little space the news networks devote to visitors from overseas. Yesterday the main news item in the morning was Cameron saying Brown was useless. Why is it NEWS when an opposition leader slags off the PM? It seems to me that anything anti-Brown gets the headlines these days and if there isn't anything substantial you'll use 'nothing' stories like the Tory leader doesn't think he's any good, or the Pope is getting more publicity.

Is the most important thing about this trip what other journalists make of it? Isn't the schedule: talks on the credit crunch with Wall Street, meetings with the three Presidential candidates, a meeting with Bush at the White House, fairly important too? Or is the extent of media coverage the only test of significance these days?

So the FCO weren't aware that the hapless PM was to visit at the same time as His Holiness.

Wouldn't have anything to do with Miliband being touted as a future Labour leader again I hope!

  • 9.
  • At 11:16 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Paul Robinson wrote:

For goodness' sake let's have a general election. Gordon Brown representing the UK is a complete embarrassment to every citizen of this country, and he only got the job by repeated backstabbing of Tony Blair. Thank goodness our US cousins have the great sense to shunt Brown into the buffers. A shame we can't do that job ourselves.

Nick - much as I'd like to hope that this article stemmed from the comments in the post to your last blog, I'm not so naive! The question posed in that last post remains: Downing Street clearly would have liaised with the White House in GB's travel plans and moves.

Was it their attention to have a relatively unnoticed trip to the US, or did the US give notice that they weren't really that interested in having GB around? This later point could always be explained away by GB not being a Head of State (like the Pope, President of South Korea & Bush himself) - but in reality, Blair was never given such a cold shoulder on his visits to the US. It's clear that Brown isn't flavour of the month abroad as well as at home.

  • 11.
  • At 11:54 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Davo wrote:

In the UK we elect a PARTY to government, not an individual as Prime Minister, so it is misinformed at best to suggest that Brown had no mandate. The mandate was given by voting in the Labour Party at the last election. It is up to that party to select their own leader. Wise up to that, regardless of what you think about Brown as PM.

  • 12.
  • At 11:59 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Wokling wrote:

It bores me that people (no 5) still mention that they think Brown is "un-elected". Get a book and find out how our electoral system works.

  • 13.
  • At 12:02 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Scamp wrote:

There's a report in the Times that he's going to offer the Americans cooperation with the Energy Technology Institute to help them develop new clean energy technologies.

If I was an American I think I'd take that as an insult. They are light years ahead of the UK in developing new energy technology and the USG and the US private sector are investing billions of $ in R&D, start-ups etc.

  • 14.
  • At 12:06 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Graham Manchester wrote:

Brown has gone to the USA to tell them we are about to join the Euro!

  • 15.
  • At 12:08 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • charles wrote:

"Gordon Brown is being very smart. I think he understands that he'll have an opportunity to help, and shape and guide and really influence the next American president.”

That quote really had me laughing! Obama's got more sense than looking to a chippy loser, Clinton is so arrogant she'll tell him what's what and McCain wants a gung-ho ally not a luke warm backslider. Who would want to stand next to him on a podium, sour faced, over-serious, pompous, arrogant, resentful and yet uncomfortable with that massive chip on his shoulder? Dream on.

  • 16.
  • At 12:46 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Jeff wrote:

Davo and Wokling need to remember that at the last General Election Tony Blair said he would serve a full third term as Prime Minister and that was the expectation of people who voted Labour back in.

Gordon Brown then staged a coup to force him out and became Prime Minister without facing an election within his Party.

Hence no one cast a vote in the General Election or in the Labour Party in support of him being Prime Minister.

He became Prime Minister despite no one, anywhere in the UK ever casting a vote for him to fill this role.

  • 17.
  • At 12:47 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • james wrote:

Davo 11.54

At the last general election we were told that Blair would stand for a FULL third term.

  • 18.
  • At 01:20 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

* Wokling wrote:
"It bores me that people (no 5) still mention that they think Brown is "un-elected". Get a book and find out how our electoral system works."

True, but didn't Tony Blair promise to serve a complete term, wasn't it in the manifesto, and as such a Labour 'promise' which they as a party have reneged upon. I for one don't consider him 'fairly elected'. Typical Labour party, promise one thing, do another completely, and blame it on everyone else...

  • 19.
  • At 01:45 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Sarge wrote:

The biggest mistake that Gordon Brown made was not holding a general election when he took over as Prime minister. He knows it would have been far too close to call, he bottled it. There is no argument to that fact. You need confidence from the people you govern, no confidence = no chance.

  • 20.
  • At 02:29 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Carnac wrote:

George Bush swung Gordon Brown around on a golf buggy at first meeting during his last visit - the message was clear 'hang on tight, or get thrown out'.

Gordon Brown represents the UK when he travels abroad, and as such we are now beginning to distinguish ourselves from under the coat-tails of the Whitehouse. The message from GW this time is that 'God is on his side', but Brown (and by abstraction the UK) is quietly making bridges with the next president whoever he or she is, and if he does that away from the limelight, it may be no bad thing. Churchill used to say 'speak softly and carry a big stick', and I say 'he who laughs last...'

  • 21.
  • At 03:06 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • OJ wrote:

It's as if Bottler's thought "What is the most inconvenient time for me to visit the states; the time that is most going to irritate Bush?"... let's face it - if you've got the Pope in town (and GWB is obviously excited about that) the last thing you want is the great clunking fist buzzing around.

  • 22.
  • At 03:08 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • S Budihal wrote:

Gordon Brown might well want to build a bridge between America and Europe.
But will any of them listen to him?

  • 23.
  • At 03:46 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Russell Holmstoel wrote:

Ref comments 11 & 12

Remember the slogan vote Blair get Brown and the howls of denial.

The theory may well be that you vote in a local representative, but it is very naive to think that this is really how it works; most people can't even name their MP. They vote for a party and the leader is critical. Don’t we just know it.

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