All alone in America: Brown left in the wings with spotlight on Pope

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The Independent Online

When Gordon Brown touched down in New York just before midnight on Tuesday for his three-day American swing, he should have been in high spirits. More even than Tony Blair, he might consider the US a second home. He has albums of holiday snaps from Cape Cod and his legion of lefty Democrat chums here could form their own Facebook network. Funny, then, that almost no one cared he was coming.

With the House of Commons in recess, flying to the US might have seemed like a reasonable way to spend his time. And his advisers had set up an impressive schedule: a Security Council conflab on Africa (and thus the chance to raise Zimbabwe), meetings with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several princes of Wall Street to talk about the global credit crunch. And that was just yesterday.

But No 10 had blundered and not just by putting Mr Brown on a private charter jet with a livery better suited to an aging rock icon or dodgy leader of a small country. (No doubt Titan, the charter company, is proud of its black and orange paint scheme with scattered military stars.) Not flying the flag across the pond is a small sin. Bodging the timing of a foreign trip is a bigger one.

Just a few days after agreeing with the White House the date of the PM's arrival his advisers discovered that another mildly high-profile world leader would be kissing US soil the very same day. That would be Pope Benedict XVI. The American media is on overdrive, the Secret Service is on super high alert, Washington and New York are agog – all for a man from Bavaria not Kirkcaldy.

Is there nothing he can do to get on the country's radar? Writing in The Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mr Brown reminded readers about that "special relationship". Interviews were lined up with a couple of the TV networks, but breaking through the Benedict cacophony will be a tough task.

Mr Brown's best hope might be the meetings scheduled for today in Washington with all three presidential hopefuls. If they show up – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might be tempted to skip Mr Brown with the Pennsylvania primary just days away – those sessions will at least get a little attention.

The irony of his loneliness in America will surely strike Mr Brown. All those years spent in his favourite suite in the Carlisle Hotel in Manhattan (Tuesday night's digs were the Waldorf) and gathering left liberal intellectual friends at holiday homes should be paying some dividends now. And yet this American visit risks dropping into a void.

Maybe instead of embarking on this diplomatic holiday he should have done like Blair would have: taken a Spring Break and sojourned in the posh home of a Bee Gee on South Beach. That always grabbed headlines at least at home. As for co-ordinating better in future with the Vatican, we might suggest converting to Catholicism post-haste.

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