Gordon Brown: still the Machiavelli

Ha ha. Brown hasn’t changed a bit. Just hours after meeting Dubya at Camp David, he’s off to the Waldorf Astoria for a private meeting with Bill Clinton that never appeared on his official itinerary. With Brown, the agenda written down is never the one that’s actually followed.

As always with Brown, you’ve got to look at what he does on three levels.

There’s the top level, the one you see on TV. The first visit to George Bush, a get-together at Camp David, lots of photo-ops and handshakes on the world stage. Blair revelled in this role; Brown just sees it as something to be suffered. He doesn’t really believe the public has any right to know what he’s up to.

There’s the level below, which websites and print media usually pick up later: what he actually DOES. In this case, the meeting with Clinton – to talk about ‘world poverty’ – is the stated rationale. Portrayed as a side visit on his way home, to Brown this was quite possibly the main purpose of the visit.

At the bottom, there’s the most useful level: WHY. Forget world issues; meeting an ex-US president who’s married to possibly the next one? Brown’s just hedging his bets, making sure he’s in early in the event of a President Hillary happening next year. In any case, Brown must have enjoyed talking to Clinton – an intellectual equal, and probably America’s smartest president – to Bush, probably the dumbest and worst.

One point in his favour, though: Brown’s performance at Camp David. While Dubya was effusive in his praise for Gordon, Brown carefully managed to avoid saying anything personally complimentary about Bush, speaking in general terms about the US rather than risking being perceived as the next poodle. And on TV, Brown next to Bush shows up the Toxic Texan in a way the lightweight Blair never could. It grates to say it, but – well done Gordon.

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