Opinion: Britain’s P.M. Brown appears to endorse Obama, but then says not really

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The British press is in a tizzy over Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s recent praise of Barack Obama.

Why? It’s uncouth.

Foreign leaders are expected to maintain (or at least feign) neutrality ahead of U.S. elections, and the press thinks that Brown’s article in this month’s Parliamentary Monitor reads too much like an endorsement of the freshman Illinois senator.


In the piece, Brown extols Obama’s plan to lift the U.S. out of an economic recession and slow home foreclosures.

‘In the electrifying U.S. presidential campaign, it is the Democrats who are generating the ideas to help people through more difficult times,’ Brown gushes.

‘To help prevent people from losing their home, Barack Obama has proposed a foreclosure prevention fund to increase emergency pre-foreclosure counseling and help families facing repossession.’

So the head of British government likes Obama’s economic proposals -- shouldn’t he be able to say so?

Absolutely not, according to The Telegraph’s Tim Shipman, who delivered a very harsh, very British rebuke of Gordon on Tuesday:

‘The first law of diplomacy is that you do not stick your fat foot into other country’s elections, least of all the U.S. presidential contest, where the chap who wins can turn round and squash you, like Monty Python’s giant descending foot, if you get it wrong,’ Shipman wrote.

In other words, if John McCain turns out to be ‘the chap who wins,’ U.S.-British relations could be damaged. That’s what happened in the 1992 election, Shipman says, when Britain’s Tories openly pulled for George H.W. Bush. When Democrat Bill Clinton actually won the White House that year, his dealings with Conservative Prime Minister John Major were strained from the beginning.

Brown, though, insists that his article was no endorsement. His spokesman told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday that Brown was not endorsing a candidate -- and never would.

‘He has made clear when asked on a number of occasions that the election is a matter for the American people alone, and he looks forward to working closely with whoever is the next president across a range of common interests,’ the spokesman said.

Of course, Brown isn’t the only European leader to praise Obama. In July, France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, offered effusive praise of the Democrat from Illinois. (And, proud Frenchman that he is, he never apologized.)

-- Kate Linthicum

(UPDATE: The above post incorrectly said that Tim Shipman published an article in The Guardian. Shipman is a journalist with The Telegraph)