London – British finance minister Gordon Brown will portray himself as a sober, intellectually rigourous politician of substance in his campaign to succeed Prime Minister Tony Blair, analysts said.
Blair announced on Thursday that he would resign on June 27, and over the next seven weeks Labour will be carrying out an election to select his successor as leader of the party, and prime minister.
Though Brown may well be the only candidate who runs for Blair’s post, his campaign will help the British public learn more about a man who, despite spending a decade as chancellor of the exchequer, remains a relative mystery.
The 56-year-old is seen by the public as dour, uncharismatic and a nail-biting political obsessive compared with Blair, who is considered by many to be the greatest British political communicator in a generation.
But some analysts believe that because his personality may never be his strong suit, Brown will play up his reputation as a conviction politician with more experience than the comparatively fresh-faced leader of the main opposition Conservative Party, 40-year-old David Cameron.
Patrick Dunleavy, a politics professor at the London School of Economics, told AFP that Brown is never going to compare with Blair for voter-friendly charm.
“His strong points are always going to be, he’s a highly intelligent person, he works around problems non-stop, he doesn’t give up,” he added.
Brown has always been bright — he started university in Edinburgh aged just 16, and after gaining a first-class honours degree in History, he went on to receive a doctorate.
Though he has been trailing Cameron in most polls in recent weeks, a recent survey commissioned by the BBC also showed that voters regard Brown as tough (59%) and principled (54%).
But he still has work to do, despite attempts to give him a softer, more publicly appealing image.
A YouGov poll for The Sunday Times this weekend suggested if Brown takes over, support for Labour would slip to 32% – 10 points behind Cameron’s Tories.
Brown remains a fiercely intellectual politician, one with strong loyalties to the Labour party, which he first canvassed for when he was 12, and officially joined as a member at 18.
His strong link with the Labour government, and party which he helped reform in the 1990s, may be something he will have to distance himself from, according to one political consultant who has worked with Labour on national election campaigns.
Because of the government’s declining popularity, after the country joined the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the so-called “cash-for-honours” police investigation, Brown will have play a balancing act, countering his experience with a desire to appear fresh and new.
“On the one hand, he needs to play up his experience, but at the same time he has to represent himself as the candidate for change,” said the consultant, who did not want to be named because of professional sensitivities.
“What the Conservatives (the main opposition party) will be trying to do is illustrate the fact that Brown has been part of the same administration” as Blair, the consultant said.
If Brown does decide to try and reinvent himself as a more personable and charismatic politician, however, he should do so carefully, warned Mark Borkowski, who founded Borkowski PR, a public relations firm that counts various celebrities among its clients.
“True image change is about stealth… The powerful image changes are those that aren’t spotted,” Borkowski told AFP.
“The British public, and also the global public, are not fooled. It’s now whether or not this image change has substance, and has integrity, because that will come through.”
Whatever Brown decides to do to enhance his appeal to voters, one thing is certain — he should be well placed for advice: his wife, Sarah, was a public relations executive and remains a consultant for a major London PR firm.
“I suspect he’s getting some top-quality advice that people who are floating a company on the stock exchange or trying a massive merger have been given, and that’s good advice,” Borkowski said.