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Last Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Sketch: Brown's transparency test
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Gordon Brown at his leadership launch
The autocues were all too visible to television viewers
Gordon Brown promised more transparency in government - but what everyone really wanted was slightly more transparency in the autocues placed in front of the chancellor.

Thirteen years later than he might have done, Mr Brown launched his leadership campaign behind a brace of "invisible" glass autocues that virtually obscured him from his television audience.

You knew it was the chancellor who was speaking because you recognised the deep, almost-gruff Scottish tones.

But was that really him behind those plate glass windows reflecting shafts of light back at the assembled hacks (both party and media variety) and via their TVs to millions of homes across the UK?

Not even the chancellor's bright new smile stood a chance in out-dazzling the autocues.

But he wasn't bothered. He even joked that at least he could see his audience even if they were struggling to focus on him.

It was certainly a change from the past. It's hard to imagine Alastair Campbell ever allowing such things to obscure shots of his man Blair being beamed out to the nation.

So what

Just for a moment it crossed a few minds that this was all, if not actually deliberate, then the result of a we-don't-care-about-such-fripperies attitude to go along with Mr Brown's stated dislike of celebrity politics and the placing of presentation before substance.

If the Brown camp had wanted a symbol that, as far as they are concerned, it is the message not the image that matters, they could not have manufactured a better one by effectively hiding the messenger.

Gordon Brown
The autocues provided a challenge for press photographers too

Those thoughts were dismissed, however, as the chancellor made that promise of more transparency in government and aides finally removed the offending obstacles.

But there are many who will be delighted if this little presentational difficulty does not lead to anguish in the Brown camp and is dismissed with a so-what shrug.

After all, as Mr Brown kept stating, he is going to be different. And one of those difference will be the relegation of presentation to a supporting role rather than lead billing.

In any case, he did a pretty good job of overshadowing that minor glitch by delivering a genuinely weighty speech that, while short on detailed policies, was littered with road signs about where he plans to take Britain.

Rebuilding trust, making the executive accountable to parliament, questioning big policies on health, education and ID cards, even placing a different emphasis on the future approach to Iraq.

New face

Mr Brown offered a host of reasons to believe he really is determined to be different and, as he kept saying, "new". And that, of course, was the point of all this.

Gordon Brown
Obstacles gone, the serious message took centre stage
The campaign launch may officially have been about persuading the Labour Party to back him as its next leader.

In reality, as he admitted himself, it was about persuading the British public - who do not have a vote in this contest - that they should back him as their next prime minister.

That is why his campaign slogan is "Gordon Brown for Britain" not "Gordon Brown for Labour".

That is also why his six week campaign will overwhelmingly be about convincing all those voters apparently toying with the idea of having a new face in Downing Street that they have already got it.

They don't, therefore, have to wait until the next general election and then run off with David Cameron.

Less difficult

So, the Brown objective is to promote himself as "the change" - a new start with a new face with new ideas and a new team. And yes, he did use the word new that many times or more at his launch.

In fact he gave the impression if the party hadn't already changed its name, he would now be christening it New Labour.

Appearing new may not be too difficult for a politician who has only recently been thrust into the leadership spotlight, like David Cameron.

But Gordon Brown has been in the spotlight for a decade, and that is plenty long enough for voters to go off someone.

He knows he can best win the battle by showing it is what he intends to do that will provide that change, that newness.

At least he has finally won the support of Tony Blair who ended months of speculation by endorsing Mr Brown during a press conference in Downing Street.

Mind you, the chancellor will never quite throw off the suspicion that the prime minister may well have endorsed somebody else, David Miliband for example, if a Blairite candidate could have been persuaded to go for it.

Mr Brown must hope the British public are less difficult to win over.

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