Confirming his retirement from Westminster – and insisting that he had no intention of taking a seat in the House of Lords – Brown told an audience of local activists and friends in his Fife constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on Monday evening: “While I am standing down from public office, I want to renew my commitment to public service.
“In the next few months I will do everything I can to secure the election of my successor as the member of parliament here and the election of Ed Miliband as prime minister under a Labour government.”
Joined by his wife Sarah and their sons John and Fraser, Brown explained that he originally intended to stand down immediately after the Scottish referendum “but there was still unfinished business”.
“I wanted to fight to ensure that the changes that had been promised for a stronger Scottish parliament would happen.” He also pledged to do all he could to secure a Labour government in Holyrood in 2016, “in what will be a decisive moment in the history of Scotland”.
In a speech, during which he poked fun at his notoriously bad handwriting and admitted that he needed to learn to text, he said: “Sometimes politics is seen at best as a branch of the entertainment industry. There are times when political parties seem not to be agents of change but brands to be marketed to people who are seen as consumers, when they are really citizens with responsibilities.”
Speaking in the shadow of St Bryce Kirk, where his father, a church of Scotland minister, once preached, Brown went on: “I still hold to the belief in something bigger than ourselves. I still hold to a belief in the moral purpose of public service, something I learnt from my father and which I hope to inspire in my children.”
Brown warmly thanked those who had helped him campaign in his early days as a constituency MP, as well as the doctor who saved his eyesight following a childhood rugby accident and those who offered support following the death of his first daughter, Jennifer.
His retirement from parliament had been rumoured for weeks after he played a leading role in the Scottish referendum campaign but then ruled out any possibility of standing to be the leader of Scottish Labour. He joked that that it was “a strange experience to read your obituary before you even retire”. He told the audience, who he joined later for shortbread, champagne and a charity raffle: “Today I will have my say, tomorrow the newspapers will have their say, and then history will have its say.”
Brown was chancellor from the start of Tony Blair’s premiership in 1997 to the day he took over as prime minister in 2007, before losing the job to David Cameron at the last election. He has been an MP since 1983, representing Dunfermline East until 2005, when he took on his current seat after boundary changes.
Since the last election, Brown has not made many high-profile appearances in the Commons, focusing on his charity work and role as a United Nations envoy for education. However, he made a significant intervention in the last weeks of the Scottish referendum campaign as the polls tightened. In an improvised speech considered to be one of the finest of his career, he promised a package of major devolutionary measures in a move credited with helping the Better Together campaign win the referendum.
On Saturday, following a speech to Labour councillors in Glasgow, Brown challenged the Scottish National party to accept the result of the referendum, saying: “Scottish politics has got to reset and Labour is pressing the reset button.” He also appeared endorse the recommendations of the Smith commission, despite previously describing the devolution of income tax as a “Tory trap” which would lead to Scottish MPs being stripped of their voting rights at Westminster.
During his time as chancellor, Brown had a reputation for ruling the Treasury with an iron fist, and his fractious relationship with Blair dominated the headlines, including speculation over when he would take over the top job. As prime minister, he governed at a time of extreme financial turmoil, including the housing market crash and banking bailouts, before being voted out of office in 2010.
His decision to stand down means there is a Commons exodus from the Labour benches of major figures of the Blair-Brown era. Alistair Darling, David Blunkett, Jack Straw, Dame Tessa Jowell, Peter Hain, Hazel Blears and Frank Dobson are among those leaving.
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