LONDON (Reuters) - Gordon Brown’s response as the new prime minister to the latest wave of terrorist attacks to hit the country won praise on Sunday from opposition parties and civil rights campaigners alike.
The serious-minded Scotsman made a brief statement on Saturday, shortly after two men slammed a jeep into an airport terminal in Scotland and barely 36 hours after two car bombs packed with fuel and nails were defused in London.
There were no snappy soundbites from Brown. He gave a brief statement from Downing Street urging vigilance and followed up with a lengthier interview on television on Sunday.
Taking over from Tony Blair on Wednesday, Brown had pledged to end the politics of celebrity, where style came before substance and presentation was a substitute for policy — criticisms often levelled at his predecessor.
Brown called on Britons to be vigilant, praised the security services and put the al Qaeda movement in a broad, international context, stressing it was a long-term, sustained threat that would not intimidate the country.
“Within hours of these events unfolding, I detect a measured tone which I think is a good thing,” said Nick Clegg, home affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats.
“(It) certainly is a significant departure from the somewhat breathless way in which Tony Blair used to always rush to try and make, frankly, political points on the back of these events,” Clegg told Sky News television.
Throughout his premiership, Blair’s skill at encapsulating the public mood after major events such as the death of Princess Diana, the September 11 attacks in the United States and the 2005 suicide bombings in London won him kudos.
But by the end of his term in office, the magic had largely worn off and Britons, many still angered by the decision to go to war in Iraq, gave him low ratings in opinion polls.
Respected human rights and civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti highlighted the contrast between Brown and Blair.
“Credit too to Mr Brown. His first serious outing yesterday, he addressed the nation, briefly, calmly, no cracking voice, no emotive statements, no lip quivering,” she said.
“At a moment like that, I think people want the solid father figure. I found it comforting myself, I have to say. But this is a test that goes on today, tomorrow ... so far, no party politics,” she told Sky News.
Opposition parties often criticised Blair’s interior minister, John Reid, for using security threats as a pretext for pushing through tough new laws to convey the impression that the government was in control.
Some of the proposals, such as extending the time police could hold terrorism suspects without charge to three months, attracted widespread criticism from civil liberties campaigners and failed to make it through parliament.
George Osborne, the economic affairs spokesman for the main opposition Conservative Party, said Brown had stressed his desire for a cross-party consensus for any new measures in discussions with Conservative leader David Cameron.
Even Blair’s chief spin doctor in the latter years of his premiership, David Hill, praised Brown’s start as leader.
“I recognise there is inevitably going to be a change of style with Gordon from Tony but I actually think that what Gordon did yesterday evening ... worked well,” Hill said.