Gordon Brown will go down in history as a UK Prime Minister who was never elected to No 10.
Our Gordon was the man who sold the UK’s gold at rock-bottom prices, publicly declared an end to boom-and-bust (yes, ahead of the worst economic crisis for 80 years), and who had the misfortune to tangle with Gillian Duffy in 2010, and blew the subsequent general election.
So, as we look back at Gordon Brown’s legacy in the week that the ex-Labour Prime Minister confirmed he would stand down from Westminster politics next year – after 32 years as an MP – it’s fair to say, then, that he won’t be thought of very highly. Right ? Well, actually, no that’s not right.
If we look back at the three men who are commonly credited with the creation of ‘New Labour’ – Blair was the style, Peter Mandelson the spin, but it was Brown who was the real brains behind the outfit. Without him, there would have been no New Labour.
As Chancellor, Brown clearly made some questionable calls (which look worse in hindsight). The gold, the relationship with the City, etc. His biggest mistake, however, was perhaps believing in his own infallibility – a trait he shared with Nigel Lawson, another long-serving resident of Number 11 who eventually left the political stage with his tail between his legs. But Brown also made some great calls – making the Bank of England independent being one of the best ones. And he also helped bring in over a decade of economic prosperity for the United Kingdom.
As Prime Minister from 2007, Brown didn’t have the best of luck. He could perhaps have called an earlier general election and won, but – after much agonizing – decided not to do so. And, soon after he went to No 10 the financial crisis hit, with Brown having to deal with a number of banking disasters which, although correct in terms of long-term policy, left the impression that it was his own actions (or lack of them) as Chancellor which helped create the events that went on to cause such financial hardship around the country. Ironically, of course, this should have been Brown’s moment, and his nationalization of a large part of the UK banking industry was decisive and well-thought out.
The 2010 election, of course, was in the balance. In the end, what did him in was the media. He was never particularly photogenic, never seemed at ease in the public eye, and didn’t come across as media-savvy as either Cameron or Clegg. Even then, however, with everything against him, Brown nearly pulled it off.
But when we look back over Gordon Brown’s political career, we should acknowledge that he was a man of conviction – unlike many others in modern politics, who simply create policy on the run after reference to the latest public opinion poll, Brown is a man of personal values who really wanted to make a positive difference to people’s lives. He was not in the political game for what he could ultimately make for himself. He also had a great sense of humour (which sadly many never saw), and cared deeply about trying to do the right thing in both his personal and public lives.
I’ve never voted Labour in my life, but I think that history will be kinder to Gordon Brown than those who write him off now with derision and scorn. That he didn’t become a bigger beast on the world’s political stage is probably down to bad luck and bad timing – and he deserves our ongoing best wishes and thanks for his contributions and service to this country.