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Britain's PM Visits Bush, Presidential Candidates

LYNN NEARY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Pope Benedict XVI is not the only high-profile visitor in Washington this morning. The other visitor is not expected to fill a baseball stadium for a morning Mass, but he will be meeting all three presidential candidates. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already met with leading bankers in New York. That meeting that came after he spoke with top bank executives in London.

NPR's Rob Gifford is in London tracking Brown's effort to restore economic confidence. And, Rob is Britain is having the same housing and mortgage problems that the United States is?

ROB GIFFORD: It is having some similar problems. It hasn't had quite the same subprime meltdown, Steve, that you've seen across in the United States. But Gordon Brown has come under intense pressure because there is the same kind of credit crunch going on. The boom is over - the boom, which, incidentally, Gordon Brown presided over as chancellor of the exchequer, head of the Treasury here for a decade.

He stepped into power when Tony Blair leaves and, bam, he's hit by the credit crunch and he's getting a lot of the blame for that.

INSKEEP: Okay. So, is this guy, who is an economic expert, doing anything that's helping?

GIFFORD: Well, that's the problem. I mean, to be fair to Gordon Brown it's not all his fault, of course. This is a global phenomenon. But when it starts to squeeze people, who do they look to blame? They look to blame the government. What we're seeing now is that the treasury here is trying to get some moves in process to try and ease the crunch.

But some people are just saying it's taking so long and the government really needs to move quicker.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should say that not only does Britain have a very large economy - not as large as the U.S. but very large - but Britain looms very large in the world of finance. So, can these two leaders - Gordon Brown and President Bush, who he's meeting today also - do anything together to fight this crisis?

GIFFORD: That's the big question. Perhaps the upcoming meeting with Ben Bernanke may even be more important, the head of the Fed. Gordon Brown also met with senior Wall Street bank executives yesterday. The meeting with George Bush will be important symbolically.

I think to some extent some of these issues are outside the control of world leaders. But certainly from Gordon Brown's point of view, especially in the twilight of the Bush years, there's an element of Brown going to Washington in order to be seen to be doing something when in fact it's going to take some time for this to all play out and he can't just snap his magic wand, of course, and make this credit crunch go away.

INSKEEP: When Gordon Brown sits across the table from George W. Bush, do you think that Bush is looking at an ally who is as strong on issues like Iraq as Tony Blair was?

GIFFORD: Absolutely not. I think the Blair/Bush coordination, the partnership there, was very strong. Brown is a very different man. He's often described as the duel Scotsman, he's not as charismatic, and certainly he's not as interventionist as Tony Blair was and indeed George Bush is.

And so I don't think there is nearly such a meeting of minds between the two men. And in fact, crucially also today Gordon Brown is meeting today with all three possible candidates - Senator McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in order to look to the future, because one of those is likely to be the one he'll actually be dealing with on a day-to-day basis come early next year.

INSKEEP: Is it too rude to point out that when President Bush and Prime Minister Brown get into a room you've got two men with appalling approval ratings?

GIFFORD: No, I think that's absolutely true. I think the problem for Gordon Brown, though, is that President Bush has served his two terms; he knows he's on the way out. Gordon Brown has not yet got a mandate from the British people. So he has to go to the British people in a general election. He took over from Tony Blair simply when Tony Blair stepped down.

Within the next two years Gordon Brown must go to the British people, and that is a very, very big concern for him with the economy as bad as he is and his poll ratings as bad as they are.

INSKEEP: Rob, always good to hear from you.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's London correspondent Rob Gifford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rob Gifford
Rob Gifford is the NPR foreign correspondent based in Shanghai.