Gordon Brown is a Labour politician, who served as Prime Minister of the UK between 2007 and 2010. He also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Tony Blair from 1997 to 2007.
Gordon Brown was born in 1951, in Kirkaldy, Scotland. Kirkaldy had a long history of mining and heavy industry, but as Gordon was growing up these industries were closing down. Thus Gordon became aware of unemployment and poverty and this affected his political beliefs and attitudes; it was perhaps as expected that Gordon was encouraged to join the Labour party. The town had a long tradition of Labour support, and given his growing interest in politics, it seemed a natural choice. His early life was also influenced by the strong support of his parents. His father was a local minister and took an active interest in helping others. He was well known in the local community and his active service to others, acted as an inspiration to Gordon.
As a teenager Gordon had a great interest in football, supporting Raith Rovers. He used to sell programmes at Raith Rovers to earn money; he has remained a loyal supporter ever since. At school, he shone as a bright, intelligent and likeable student. He passed his O levels and then A levels before going to Edinburgh University at the very young age of 15. He later emerged with a first class degree, and other prizes. He became the youngest rector of Edinburgh University. Perhaps ironically, Gordon Brown took a great interest in the early founders of the Labour party and their ideology. He wrote a book about James Maxton, one of the early founders of the Labour Party. His book “Values, Visions and Voices” was an in-depth look at the Socialist ideology of the first Labour MPs.
Gordon Brown as MP
Gordon Brown was elected to parliament in 1983, for his constituency Dunfermline East. He had an 11,000 majority. This was in the same election that Tony Blair was elected in Newcastle. At the time the Labour party’s manifesto made a commitment to nuclear disarmament, nationalisation and higher taxes for the rich. Under, Michael Foot, it was an undoubtedly Socialist agenda, but electorally Labour suffered. They gained only 24% of the vote and lost out as the Conservative party under Mrs Thatcher was re-elected. The next 10 years saw a real decade of turbulence in the Labour Party. Firstly, hard left factions like Militant tried to steer the party to an ideologically socialist agenda. However, the new leader Neil Kinnock saw that this would be electoral suicide and he tried valiantly to steer the party more to the centre, ditching some of the socialist rhetoric of the past.
Gordon Brown was a firm supporter of Neil Kinnock’s agenda. Both men shared a common belief in a non-dogmatic social democratic agenda. Both wanted to maintain the Labour party as the part of the poor and underprivileged, but also maintain its electoral potential.
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair
Gordon Brown also developed a close friendship with Tony Blair. They were the rising stars of the Labour Party and together they made a pact that they would not stand against each other for leadership, should a situation arose. This pact was to prove of great significance in later times. After Labour unexpectedly lost another election in 1992 and John Smith’s untimely death, Tony Blair seized his chance to become the leader of the party. Honouring the commitment, Gordon Brown did not oppose him, and as a reward was given the position of shadow chancellor. Under Tony Blair, the party continued its modernisation process; symbolically jettisoning Clause IV, the commitment to “common ownership of the means of production”
In 1997, New Labour won a landslide victory creating a real sense of optimism and sense of change. Tony Blair, the charismatic figurehead, captured the imagination of the public and became the symbol of what New Labour stood for. Gordon Brown, on the other hand, took more of a background role. However, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he wielded tremendous influence over the economy of the UK.
Gordon Brown as Chancellor 1997-2007
Gordon Brown could claim to be one of the UK’s most successful post-war chancellors. Under his stewardship, the economy experienced a long period of economic expansion and inflation was brought under control. In the early years, Gordon Brown became known as the prudent chancellor. He maintained a tight grip on government spending. In one year, pensions rose by a measly 75p, much to the embarrassment of the government.
Under this Government, Britain will not return to the boom and bust of the past.
Gordon Brown, Pre-Budget Report, 9th November 1999
However, in later years, government spending was significantly increased on education and healthcare. (see: Government spending under Labour) This has led to a persistent budget deficit, which threatens to break his own fiscal rules. His other main contributions were giving independence to the Bank of England and helping to steer the UK away from joining the Euro.
His period as chancellor was overshadowed by the global credit crunch and global recession which began in 2007. This financial crisis pushed the UK economy into recession, leading to a rapid rise in government borrowing. As a result of the crisis, Gordon Brown pursued expansionary fiscal policy; this helped to avoid a deeper recession, but also pushed the UK national debt towards record levels.
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Gordon Brown as Prime Minister
In 2006, Tony Blair, finally announced he would be standing down as Prime Minister before the end of the next election. This created intense interest in when he would go and who would succeed him. Initially, Tony Blair expressed much reluctance to announce a date for his departure. (Much to the probable annoyance of Gordon Brown, who was kept waiting on tenterhooks) Finally, after intense media speculation, Tony Blair did announce his departure and in the summer of 2007, Gordon Brown was finally able to assume leadership of the Labour Party, becoming the Prime Minister of the UK. No candidate could command sufficient support to force an internal election.
Gordon Brown and Iraq.
Gordon Brown never opposed the invasion of Iraq. He gave his full support to Tony Blair and the government. However, he was rarely forthcoming in his support, he often tried to keep a low profile. Many feel he was following the lead of Tony Blair and was not interested in trying to shape opinion. When the Iraq invasion and occupation, created adverse publicity, it was generally Tony Blair who was given the blame and disapproval of those who opposed the war and what it had done.
Gordon Brown and George Bush
Tony Blair was heavily criticised for his very close and public support for Tony Blair. Many criticised Tony Blair for being a puppet of George Bush. In return for his unequivocal support for the Iraq invasion, Tony Blair’s proposals were rarely taken seriously. For example, George Bush never took seriously Tony Blair’s commitment to finding a roadmap for peace in the Middle East. It is thought that Gordon Brown will try to distance himself from Tony Blair. At the same time, there is no evidence Gordon Brown wishes to radically change the close friendship between America and Britain. However, under Gordon Brown, it is more likely that British forces will leave Iraq sooner than planned.
Against a backdrop of an economic recession, Gordon Brown was unable to create any momentum for the Labour party. In one unfortunate incident on the campaign trail, he called a woman, Gillian Duffy, a ‘bigot’ – not realising his comments were being recorded. Despite apologising it caused a lot of damage in the election. In the May elections, Labour lost gaining just 29% of the vote. Although no party won an outright majority, the Conservatives formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. After the result was announced, Gordon Brown announced he was stepping down as leader of the Labour Party.
Since leaving British politics, Gordon Brown has acted as a United Nations Special Envoy for global education. He helped launch the petition. “I am Malala” after the Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala, was shot in the head by the Taliban.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Gordon Brown”, Oxford, UK www.biographyonline.net 23rd May 2011.
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