The Independent: Gordon Brown is ready to hit the ground running after Tony Blair resigns with an ambitious strategy for his first 100 days in office that will herald a radical change of approach on the Middle East and the NHS and a clean-up of Whitehall. The Independent
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
Gordon Brown is ready to hit the ground running after Tony Blair resigns with an ambitious strategy for his first 100 days in office that will herald a radical change of approach on the Middle East and the NHS and a clean-up of Whitehall.
He will use the departure of Lord Levy, the Prime Minister’s personal envoy to the Middle East, to signal a fundamental change of approach on Iran and Iraq – where Mr Blair’s foreign policies have bequeathed a legacy that could cost Labour the next general election.
As a priority, the prime minister-in-waiting will seek to engage Iran directly in talks over the future of Iraq – possibly through the EU – soon after Mr Blair quits in June. Mr Blair was reluctant to criticise the Bush administration after the White House rejected the recommendation of the President’s Iraq Study Group to hold talks with Iran. The US has since begun to shift, but Mr Brown believes a major push towards engaging Iran in the Middle East must be made to avoid a disaster in the region.
Changes to Middle East policy will be welcomed by Labour voters, who deserted in droves at last week’s local elections. But Mr Brown has privately reassured Labour Friends of Israel that he will not compromise on Mr Blair’s support for the right of Israel to exist as a separate state.
Mr Brown has been holding talks with colleagues on the development of a strategy for change across a wide spectrum of polices on terrorism, Islamic extremism, the NHS, education, law and order and climate change. He is ready to make clear his priorities from Thursday, when Mr Blair is expected to set out the timetable for his departure.
THE MIDDLE EAST
Mr Brown will seek to change the emphasis of government policy from military intervention to a battle for “hearts and minds”. He says the West should mount an ideological battle like that which defeated Communism during the Cold War.
Said by allies to be his “number one priority”. Labour has lost its lead over the Tories on the health service, despite spending billions on reform. Mr Brown is said to be “appalled” at nurses being sacked and plans to call a halt to the expansion of private health care in services by hospital trusts. That will be hailed as a victory by unions who have been mounting a vigorous campaign against the Government over the “privatisation” of the health service which could prove highly damaging in the approach to the next general election.
But it will alarm some who fear he is turning the clock back. This is denied by Mr Brown’s allies who believe that the NHS hospital trusts wasted taxpayers’ money by paying the private health sector to do its work, including expensive agency nurses while home-produced nurses were denied jobs.
Mr Brown is not halting other NHS reforms. Tomorrow Andy Burnham, the Minister of State for Health, is expected to call for private companies to be offered the chance to run family doctor services in 30 “under-doctored” areas. That may seem to contradict Mr Brown’s approach, but his defenders say GPs are already private contractors and bringing in companies to run services will “put a rocket up them”.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
High on the Brown agenda. There will be more cash and tax incentives for “green” energy-saving measures. He signalled his commitment – despite criticism about his past record by green pressure groups – by announcing in the Budget zero rating for stamp duty on carbon-neutral homes.
Yvette Cooper, the Housing minister, is also spearheading an ambitious plan for new carbon-neutral “eco towns”. Plans for 10,000 new homes at Northstowe in Cambridgeshire could become the benchmark for new development.
Mr Brown is to adopt controversial plans for more nuclear power stations once the public consultation required by a court appeal is completed, but will insist it is in line with the recommendations last week of the Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC).
WHITEHALL AND SPIN
Brown will scrap changes that put civil servants directly under the orders of Tony Blair’s chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, the former director of communications, and Jonathan Powell, the No 10 chief of staff. His supporters say he will put an end to “sofa style” government.
GRACE AND FAVOUR
Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence, will no longer be used routinely at weekends by Mr Brown and his family, who will continue to use the flat at No 10 and their constituency home at North Queensferry, Fife, as their weekend retreat. Chequers will be used only for events such as “brainstorming” sessions with his team, or hospitality for VIPs and diplomats.
LAW AND ORDER
The split in the Home Office between law and order and the new justice department, set to be announced this week, is privately seen as a diversion by Brown advisers. He cannot reverse it, but the new Home Secretary is likely to be retain overall command where powers or issues overlap.