Steve Richards: Brown needs help to save the world

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The Independent Online

Stylistically, the laid-back press conference between President Barack Obama and Gordon Brown was light years away from the red-carpeted affairs which marked the Bush-Blair era. The exchanges between the two leaders were slightly muffled as they were broadcast live in the UK. They are unlikely to have made any impact on Mr Brown's low personal ratings in the polls. But stylistic limitations are a marginal matter in the light of the economic crisis battering both countries.

On the overwhelming issue of their times, Mr Obama indicated, in general terms at least, that he shared Mr Brown's assessment about the origins of the economic crisis and what needs to be done about it. In particular, the President echoed Mr Brown's view that banking regulatory systems set up in the 1930s were in need of urgent revision, and that "other countries should join us in seeking a more stable financial system".

Mr Brown spoke again of his vision of a global new deal. Mr Obama made no commitment to bring one about. Given that they had spoken for only half an hour before the press conference the presidential evasiveness was unsurprising. But a global deal is Mr Brown's ambitious objective. His Washington trip is the most important step towards the G20 summit in London next month, when he hopes to get agreement on a detailed package of measures.

For a mountain of reasons, Mr Brown is obsessed by the need for global solutions, but so far he has not had a great deal of success in securing the ground-breaking deal he seeks. European leaders twitch nervously and have responded to the economic crisis in their own ways. Countries outside Europe are equally wary and in some cases more so.

Yet Mr Brown is on to something. If he can persuade Mr Obama that a formal international rescue package needs to be agreed in London, his chances of success become much higher. He wants members of the G20 to agree measures to boost the international economy and at least accept in theory a regulatory structure that binds them all in together, an equal playing-field for banks and their customers around the globe.

Now, Mr Brown knows that he and the President share similar views about free markets and regulation, a point reiterated by Mr Obama at yesterday's press conference. But he is less sure about the presidential commitment to a detailed package for international action. He is still not sure.

The two of them have agreed to speak regularly in the build-up to the G20 summit. Mr Brown will leave Washington with his fingers crossed rather than knowing for certain that Mr Obama dances to his tunes.