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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 12:07 GMT
Gould's verdict on Blair & Co
By Lucy Wilkins
Political reporter, BBC News

As a one-time hopeful for the Labour leadership, Bryan Gould has the prism of experience, time and distance through which to observe the changing British political scene.

Bryan Gould
Bryan Gould continues to observe British politics - from a distance

Twelve years after quitting British politics (or "running away" with a "tinge of bitterness" in the opinion of John Prescott), he has harsh words for the man whose job he once wanted, and frank opinions on those who might succeed him.

"Tony has lost it, he's living in a world of his own, and - as most will say - he's deluded on Iraq."

As far as Mr Gould is concerned, Labour wasted the "unparalleled opportunity for change" it gained in 1997.

"We had a charismatic, popular, young leader, with a huge majority in Parliament and, arguably, Thatcherism had run its course.

"It was a real chance to begin a transformation of society," he told the BBC News website from his native New Zealand, where he has lived since 1994.

That missed opportunity was due to Blair's "lack of political analysis", although he highlighted Blair's role in Northern Ireland as important.

"It's not that he lacks principles, but he lacks politics.

"Blair always pitched to the public with 'trust me', but then Iraq came along, by which time he had become arrogant - and that will be the end of him."

Now it's the fag end of his administration and it has stymied the Labour Party
Bryan Gould
Former Labour MP

Following Mr Blair's forced announcement in September that he will be gone within a year, Mr Gould said: "Now it's the fag end of his administration and it has stymied the Labour Party."

But what qualities should his successor possess, from a man who considered himself up to leading the party?

"If you are the leader of the Labour Party, you need to have a good understanding of the party and a good analysis of reform, which by definition means you have to do things to improve society, you can't be content with the status quo.

"You then need to be able to convince the majority of voters that what you're doing is correct and that the changes are going to help them. You have to be moderate but radical - moderate in terms of what you present, but within a very soundly worked out framework."

'Frankly amazing'

And thirdly you need colleagues on your side - something Mr Gould admits he lacked.

He describes his own leadership battle - when he lost to John Smith by 91% to 9% - as "bruising", especially as he knew himself to be "someone who was clearly going to lose".

Mr Gould says he ran for the leadership because he believed that going from Neil Kinnock's resignation after the 1992 election to an un-challenged John Smith as the next leader in the space of just one week was asking for trouble.

Jack Straw and Charles Clarke
Straw 'lacks charisma' and Clarke's behaving 'bizarrely'

"I felt it was just too quick. The party would have turned around and said that we never had a chance to choose. I felt it was vital that we have an election."

The current Labour Party are in the opposite position - they have plenty of time to choose a successor, even if Blair has yet to give a specific date.

Of course, Gordon Brown is widely expected to take over, but there are also other potential candidates - if not for the top job, then at least for deputy.

Mr Gould, when prompted, has a frank opinion on most of them.

It would be "frankly amazing" if Home Secretary John Reid became the next prime minister; Environment Secretary David Miliband seems to be "more of a back-room intellectual" who lacks the political touch; Harriet Harman, being southern and female would provide a balance as deputy PM to the northerness of Brown; Alan Milburn's 2003 retreat from Westminster would count against him - and government didn't seem to suit him anyway - "he became more pompous".

'Bizarre behaviour'

Peter Hain is a possible contender, with strong union support, but in the end, "I don't think he would beat Gordon", says Mr Gould.

Mr Gould, who keeps in touch with some former colleagues and visits the UK yearly, said Charles Clarke, demoted from the Home Office to the backbench, was, in terms of ability, "the most serious challenger but he has conducted himself in a bizarre manner recently".

"He has set himself up as a challenger, but recent episodes have called his judgement into question."

And while Mr Gould praises Leader of the Commons Jack Straw for being "a very sound operator" and "a politician to his fingertips", he is unlikely to make it further up the ladder.

"I don't think he's got charisma or the personality to be prime minister, but that's not to say that someone without personality can't become the prime minister," referring to the unassuming Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party for 20 years and prime minister for six.

But for all the perceived weaknesses of potential contenders, Mr Gould isn't totally convinced that Brown can make the move to Number 10 either.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
Waiting his turn: Brown is expected to succeed Blair

"I have reservations about Gordon. For good or ill, he would make changes and he's got deeper roots than Blair with the party, more affection for the party than Blair, but the reason he was dumped as a leadership candidate by Peter Mandelson [in 1994] was because Tony was more voter-friendly.

"Gordon was dour."

And despite more than a decade in the public eye and countless attempts to transform him, Brown's image could still remain the biggest obstacle, especially when compared with the younger, camera-friendly David Cameron.

"There is a lot to be said for working on your public image, but it's very difficult to work on it to such an extent that you conceal who you are. Gordon is who he is," says Mr Gould.

But image isn't everything. Gordon Brown "is a good parliamentarian, he has real political skills in terms of operating in the political arena - doing deals, making speeches".

The 'real' threat

Whether these skills are apparent to voters is still unknown.

"Tony has been lucky as he has had no real opposition. But if it looks like David Cameron is drawing a line under the past, making a fresh start, then by doing that he transforms the situation as it gives voters a choice.

"That is the real threat to Gordon."

At least when it comes to the party selection, time is on Brown's side. Given the long run-up, when Blair actually announces a departure date the party may have had enough time to consider other options and decided there need be no leadership race after all, says Gould.

"I would place a bet on Gordon Brown being the next Labour leader," says Mr Gould... but he seems less inclined to put money on him emerging from the next General Election as prime minister.

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