He has been biting his nails, waiting for his moment. Gordon Brown has, over the past seven years, run much of the government's domestic agenda. His record on economic management, poverty reduction and international debt relief, his views on welfare, enterprise and public services are well documented. And yet there remain whole swathes of policy, especially foreign affairs, which he has observed from the sidelines, often with frustration. So how would he conduct Britain's relations with the rest of the world and how would he deal with those aspects of public policy that have yet to come under his thumb? Here is a guide to the hidden policy world of the prime minister-in-waiting.
For all his public protestations of support, Brown has drawn some sharply critical conclusions about the way Tony Blair has conducted foreign policy. The processes have been, in his view, as alarming as the outcomes. Blair's reliance on personal relations and his belief in his powers of persuasion have struck the Brown camp as naive, at best. Granted the benefit of hindsight, the Brown approach during the frantic weeks before the Iraq war would have been to stick with the UN process, to see the relationship between the British Prime Minister and US president as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Brown would have insisted, I am told, on a second UN resolution, and would not have acquiesced on multilateral action so quickly.
Brown has a well-chronicled affection for America and was heavily influenced by the economic thinking of the New Democrats in the early to mid-1990s. Yet he feels Blair underplayed his hand with the Americans. "Tony operates on the basis of influence," says one official who has seen the two men close up in the international arena. "Gordon operates on the basis of interest."
Would Brown have gone to war against Saddam Hussein? Possibly, but a Brown government might have insisted as a condition for its support on a slower timetable, and have taken a far less personalised and rhetorically moralising approach to the conflict. As for future military deployments, Brown has not been converted to the school of thought that saw Kosovo as a moral template for humanitarian intervention. He kept his public proclamations of support for that conflict to a bare minimum, but behind the scenes was furious that Blair seemed to want a blank cheque for military spending in return for persuading Bill Clinton to take part.
Brown has long viewed the military establishment as one of the worst exponents of financial irresponsibility. He has little time also for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an institution, although he would be keen to cherry pick those officials he respects into his inner sanctum. Whenever he travels abroad, Brown makes a point of not staying at the residences of British ambassadors, to avoid being taken "captive" by the FCO. Brown has learned from Blair's mistakes and would not, I am told, take the word of his intelligence chiefs as gospel.
On Israel, the otherwise pragmatic Brown is curiously passionate. He is strongly influenced by the experience of his father, who as a Church of Scotland pastor visited the Jewish homeland several times during the early, idealistic years of its establishment. Brown, like Blair, was identified by the Israeli embassy as an up-and-coming politician and from the early 1990s was assiduously cultivated. In recent years, he has been at least as enthusiastic as Blair in attending meetings of Labour Friends of Israel. His views about the peace process are, however, meticulously middle-of-the-road, adhering to the standard template of a two-state solution. The extent to which Brown as PM would challenge Israel over issues such as settlements, targeted killings and bulldozing of houses would provide an early test of his priorities.
What of other areas of what briefly came to be known as an ethical foreign policy? Apart from ensuring that export credit guarantees to certain African countries could not be used to buy weapons (they weren't anyway), Brown has said and done little on arms sales. He is likely to take a similarly pragmatic view of human rights. He would see violations by countries such as Russia and China as part of a historical pattern and would not allow such concerns to influence bilateral relations with major countries. Instead of what he regards as empty references to "ethics", Brown would be guided by what he has termed a "progressive consensus", a still somewhat nebulous term based around a mix of rule of law, social justice and global trade.
Brown calls his approach to the European Union and the euro "practical", as distinct from what he terms Blair's focus on "faith". Increasingly, his speeches focus on what is wrong with Europe. Brown has kept each sortie to Brussels to a bare minimum. Diplomats have described his tactics as "attritional". After an epic two-year struggle, he overturned a 14:1 position on the withholding tax, arguing that a tax levied across the EU on savings held in foreign accounts would damage the City of London. His doggedness does not always pay dividends. Last autumn, he was furious when he lost a bitter but largely technical battle over the powers of brokerage houses. If he were PM, encounters with him at summits in Europe would be bruising affairs.
Brown is used to fighting his corner, not acting as a disin- terested facilitator. This may not make things easy in dealing with Northern Ireland. Even in quiet times, Ulster occupies a disproportionate amount of a prime minister's time. Brown would seek to delegate as much as possible to the relevant secretary of state - the present incumbent, Paul Murphy, is generally regarded as extremely effective - but all the main parties regard their visits to Downing Street as sacrosanct.
In domestic policy as in international, Brown has had a scarcely veiled disdain for what he regards as Blair's obsession with quick-fix initiatives. Be it a G8 declaration on reforming global financial systems after the emerging-markets crashes of 1998, be it antisocial behaviour, Brown has favoured a more methodical approach. His people have no shortage of examples of ill-conceived and spin-driven Blairite policy to cite: from marching young people to cashpoint machines to the decision, hatched on the back of an envelope, to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor; from tuition fees to the inability to focus on a single reason for going to war in Iraq.
Brown would, I am told, abandon many of the public-service performance targets that he believes are both distrusted and ultimately meaningless. He would set long-term benchmarks by which to be judged - a strong economy for the public at large, and a strong economy and poverty reduction for Labour supporters.
On law and order, the broad outlines would remain the same. But Brown believes that Blair and, more particularly, David Blunkett have allowed the emphasis on "causes of crime" to slip, as they look for eye-catching headlines to reassure the public that they are being tough. He does not regard a reduction in prisoner numbers from their present record high as an end in itself, but he sees tackling the causes of social exclusion that have led to the rise as an urgent priority. He is looking at ideas to strengthen the link between long-term crime prevention and the rights-and-responsibilities mantra that dominates his welfare and work agenda.
The longer-term thinking for a Brown premiership is in its early stages, but it is of a different order to the Blair world. So enthralled was Brown recently by discussion of the relationship between the free market and society that he ignored repeated entreaties by his staff to leave a seminar on "civilised capitalism" on time. A speech he made last year to the Social Market Foundation on the role of the market (and at the same time the limits of the market in the National Health Service) remains a first-of-its-kind text. For Brown, improving access to public services and providing resources are the keys to improvement. The same applies to education. He does not dismiss all aspects of the Blairite "consumer choice" agenda, but regards its priorities as misplaced. His big push on education would be on pre-school years. Above all, Brown would embrace any organisation that subscribed to his "progressive consensus" - combining the virtues of the market with an emphasis on reducing inequalities. He would take that purist approach into industrial relations, doing business with any trade union that dealt with him on his own terms.
If Brown takes over suddenly, before or immediately after the next general election, he would have to dispense with the remaining, piecemeal policy commitments of a Blair government. He would see through Lords reform, but without particular enthusiasm. He would also see through the plans to introduce a Supreme Court, something he would regard as an important ingredient in making justice more accessible to all strata of society. He claims to be a proponent of greater freedom of information than the government is ready to concede, but theory will run up against practice. He is wary of Blunkett's plans for identity cards, mainly for reasons of cost and efficiency, but might allow himself to be persuaded if they can be seen to be beneficial. As for hunting, he reluctantly backs a ban, but sees the issue as a distraction.
From the tranquillity of a hermetically sealed Treasury, Brown has been able to pursue and develop his central agenda of marrying a free market and thriving enterprise economy with poverty reduction and redistribution by stealth. He has enjoyed a regu-lar working pattern - budgets, pre-Budget reports, spending reviews and meetings of international financial organisations.
Soon, however, he may face distractions of an altogether different order, such as picking up the pieces of a failed war that was not of his making.