U.S. News

Brown Pledges Change as British Prime Minister


Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Britain's prime minister on Wednesday after years of waiting and promised sweeping changes in style and policy to restore trust in a government damaged by the Iraq war.

Queen Elizabeth asked the long-serving finance minister to form a government after Blair tendered his resignation at Buckingham Palace after giving an emotional farewell speech in parliament that brought one minister to tears and the assembly to its feet.

Blair, whose 10-year rule began with high promises but ended with his popularity badly dented by the 2003 Iraq war, stepped aside to give the Labour Party a better chance of winning a fourth consecutive term in the next election, due in 2010.

"This will be a new government with new priorities," Brown, 56, told reporters in a statement as he arrived at the prime minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street, his wife Sarah at his side.

"I've heard the need for change ... and this need for change cannot be met by the old politics," he said, pledging to reach out beyond narrow party interests and build a government that "uses all the talents."

Britons wanted change in the state-run health service and schools and more affordable housing, Brown said. They also wanted changes to build trust in government and to "protect and extend the British way of life."

"I will try my utmost," Brown said, repeating the motto of his old school.

The Labour Party has been lagging in most recent polls to the resurgent opposition Conservatives. But Brown received a boost on Wednesday from an opinion poll that put Labour just one percentage point behind the Conservatives.

Brown, whose father was a church minister in Scotland, is widely seen as a less charismatic than Blair. As finance minister throughout the Blair years, he guided the economy to uninterrupted growth, but interest rates have hit a six-year high, pushing up housing costs.

Analysts do not expect major changes in Brown's policy on Iraq, where British troop numbers are already expected to decline.

Emotional Farewell

Blair, 54, who has towered over British politics since a landslide election win in 1997, won a standing ovation in parliament. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was in tears.

About 100 anti-Iraq war protesters demonstrated nearby with placards saying "You lied. 1000s died." and "Troops out now."

Soon afterwards, a smiling Brown, accompanied by his wife Sarah, said goodbye to staff at the finance ministry before making the short journey to the palace where the queen asked him to form a government. He emerged after 55 minutes to find his saloon car had been swapped for a shiny new Jaguar.

Brown's first task is to appoint a new ministerial team.

Blair, set to resign as a member of parliament later in the day, was expected to be named to a high-profile peacemaking role in the Middle East.

Blair, Britain's second longest serving prime minister in a century, led Labour to an unprecedented three consecutive election wins. But, for many voters, his legacy has been tarnished by his decision to back the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

In contrast to Blair's outgoing personality, Brown is not given to showing his emotions. Voters may welcome the change.

Blair became associated with a culture of "spin" in which news management often came first.

"We need a more down-to-earth approach, a little less glitz and I think we're likely to get that from Gordon. He has a modest lifestyle and that does differentiate him in a way from Tony," said Chris Mullin, a Labour member of parliament.

Before stepping down, Blair answered questions in a packed parliament for the last time, displaying his mastery of debating skills in a session marked by humor and emotion.

Blair said he was "truly sorry" about the dangers that British soldiers face in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I know some may think that they face these dangers in vain. I don't and I never will," he said.

He said politics was "still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster" and signed off with: "I wish everyone -- friend or foe -- well. And that is that. The end."