Gordon Brown for President! There's one job a vitally important one for which the British Chancellor is the person best qualified in the world Though you'd rarely guess it from the British press, which compliments politicians about as often as Prince Harry reads Aristotle, Gordon Brown has been a great Chancellor of the Exchequer perhaps the greatest of the last 100 years. On this Scotsman's watch, the British economy has outperformed most of its rivals in the rich world, and the British people have seen the sort of steady, noninflationary growth in prosperity that not so long ago seemed to be the birthright of Germans, French of everyone, in fact, but Albion's hordes. You can say that Brown was lucky, because he inherited the impact of Margaret Thatcher's economic reforms in particular, severely weakened trade unions and a deregulated labor market. But great leaders make their own luck. By establishing a stable macroeconomic policy framework, by maintaining tight control of public expenditure in the first Blair government, and by cutting free from political interference the Bank of England's capacity to change interest rates, Brown deserves his place among the Treasury immortals. He is already the longest-serving Chancellor since the 1820s; of those who have held his office in the modern age, only the great Victorian William Ewart Gladstone spent more time in the Treasury's corridors.
Gladstone, of course, went on to be as great a Prime Minister as he was a Chancellor, and Brown dreams of emulating him. Yet for all his many virtues, there are things about the Chancellor that would stop him from being a successful PM. He bears grudges; collegiality is not his strong suit; though less so now that he is married with a child, he sometimes seems to carry around an existential angst, as if a dirty, gray, west-of-Scotland sky was permanently moored above his unkempt locks. He does not make people feel comfortable. He does not have as, even after Iraq, Tony Blair still does the capacity to convince the solid, middle-class folk of southern England that he is one of them. He is, finally, more policy wonk than politician. Time after time, he and Blair have had rifts over policy or presentation or if you believe what you read in the papers over Blair's promises of who would do what job when. And who wins each time? Well: Who's the occupant of 10 Downing Street, and who isn't?
Yet there is one job a vitally important one for which Brown is, quite simply, the person best qualified in the world. That post is president of the World Bank. The Bank is more than the principal multilateral agency for aid and assistance to the developing world. It can also change the intellectual landscape in which development is discussed. The fact that cracking down on corruption is vitally important to economic success was almost entirely disregarded until James Wolfensohn who will leave the presidency of the Bank this year made clean
government a crusade. Brown does not just have the intellectual smarts to lead the Bank though he has them in spades. During his time as Chancellor, he has also shown a rare and genuine compassion for the poor, and has relentlessly bullied other Finance Ministries to forgive debt to developing countries and open their wallets to the destitute of the world. In every respect, he has the qualities that would make him a superb president, one who could lead the Bank to a new level of global credibility.
In every respect save one. In a cynical carve-up of positions at the head of key international institutions, the Bank's presidency is reserved for an American (Wolfensohn, although Australian by birth, is a naturalized one). But there is no American candidate no, not even Colin Powell, of whom Bank staffers dream who is as perfect a fit for the Bank as Brown. If the second George W. Bush Administration really wanted to prove to the world as we keep hearing it does that the arrogance of the last four years is over, there is no better way to prove the fact than by graciously giving up its
"right" to the Bank president's spacious offices in Washington.
If Brown were appointed, he would likely serve 10 years (as Wolfensohn has done) which would give him the satisfaction of being a figure on the world stage when Blair had long retired to the board of the Carlyle Group and a spread in Gascony. Yet the Chancellor, it appears, still dreams of the premiership, still lets what he believes to be Blair's broken promises to stand down gnaw at his soul. That's no way for a good man to spend his time. Chuck it, Gordon; go for the Bank.