The British American Project – Searching for the Successor Generation – The US Embassy’s International Visitor Program Gordon Brown and the Labour Party in the 1980s
The IV Program (US Embassy’s International Visitor Program) is a subtle exercise that trades heavily on America’s considerable cultural and social capital, in other words its soft power. The altruistic aspect of providing the trip is always balanced with the intention of some kind of return. An invitation offered at the start of a young, obviously talented politician’s career can pay off later if, as expected, that politician rises through the ranks in the following years.
An IV trip has the potential; thanks to the extra information sources or contacts it can provide, to be career enhancing, particularly for those in the media or academics but also for MPs. It is not a case of undue influence but of pragmatically attempting to establish favourable, constructive relations early on with someone expected to achieve greater influence in the future. The element of chance that it will succeed in the long term is of course large.
In 1984 the IVP showed the first signs of this approach, with an invitation offered to Gordon Brown.
Selection of candidates for the IVP was not easy due to the lack of talent available within the Labour Party. Indeed comment was made that the majority of the 209 Labour MPs in the Commons after the 1983 election were, distinctly unimpressive. Of the party’s 32 new MPs, Gordon Brown certainly stood out as among the pick of the intake.
A US Embassy airgram from early 1984 described how Brown was, “already being seen as a leading light among the new members. He is an articulate, hard working and dedicated MP who is likely to go places within his party . As he has never been to the US the IV Program will give him an ideal opportunity to learn first-hand about the US political system and meet his American counterparts early in his career, which could have immense value to both sides of the Atlantic”.
Brown’s programme in the United States was dominated by three issues: the American political process at federal and state levels, US defence policy, and regional and urban redevelopment schemes. Defence policy and NATO missile deployment were covered by the usual meetings at the Departments of State and Defence.
On redevelopment questions, the Embassy was aware that Brown’s constituency of Dunfermline East was suffering from high unemployment and was also deeply involved in the miners’ strike. This was the background to his visit to Pittsburgh to view its urban renewal schemes, and his meetings with union officials.
But, the main focus was on the apparatus of the political parties. Brown was interested in the organisation, fundraising, campaigning and the role of political action committees in both major parties. Brown was definitely fascinated by the United States. While he went back at every opportunity in subsequent years, it was his IV trip that initially opened the door.