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Gordon Brown

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Gordon Brown
Speaking during an IMF/World Bank news conference in 2005.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Assumed office
27 June 2007
MonarchElizabeth II
Preceded byTony Blair
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
2 May 1997 – 27 June 2007
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byKenneth Clarke
Succeeded byAlistair Darling
Member of Parliament
for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath
Dunfermline East (1983-2005)
Assumed office
9 June 1983
Preceded byNew constituency
Majority18,216 (43.6%)
Personal details
Born (1951-02-20) 20 February 1951 (age 68)
Govan, Glasgow, Scotland
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Sarah Brown
ChildrenJohn and James Fraser
Residence10 Downing Street (offical)
North Queensferry (private)[1]
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
SignatureGordon Brown's signature

James Gordon Brown (born 20 February 1951) is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He took office on 27 June 2007, three days after becoming leader of the Labour Party. Prior to this he served as the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Tony Blair from 1997 to 2007, becoming the United Kingdom's longest serving Chancellor since Nicholas Vansittart in the early 19th century. He has a PhD in history from the University of Edinburgh[2][3], and, as Prime Minister, he also holds the positions of First Lord of the Treasury and the Minister for the Civil Service. He has been a Member of Parliament since 1983; firstly for Dunfermline East and since 2005 for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.[4][5]

Early life and career before parliament

Gordon Brown was born in Govan, Glasgow, Scotland,[6][7] although media[8][9] have occasionally given his place of birth as Giffnock, Renfrewshire, where his parents were living at the time.

His father, John Ebenezer Brown, was a strong influence on Brown and died aged 84.[10] His mother Elizabeth, known as Bunty, died in 2004 aged 86.[11] Gordon was brought up with his brothers John and Andrew Brown in a manse in Kirkcaldy—the largest town in Fife, Scotland across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.[12] In common with many other notable Scots, he is therefore often referred to as a "son of the manse". Brown was educated first at Kirkcaldy West Primary School[13] where he was selected for an experimental fast stream education programme, which took him two years early to Kirkcaldy High School for an academic hothouse education taught in separate classes. At age 16 he wrote that he loathed and resented this "ludicrous" experiment on young lives.[14]

He was accepted by the University of Edinburgh to study history at the age of only 16. He suffered a retinal detachment after being kicked in the head during an end-of-term rugby union match at his old school. He was left blind in his left eye, despite treatment including several operations and lying in a darkened room for weeks at a time. He has since been fitted with an artificial eye.[12][15] Later at Edinburgh, while playing tennis, he noticed the same symptoms in his right eye. Brown underwent experimental surgery at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and his eye was saved.[16] Brown graduated from Edinburgh with First Class Honours MA in 1972,[17] and stayed on to complete his PhD (which he gained in 1982), titled The Labour Party and Political Change in Scotland 1918-29.[18]

In 1972, while still a student and with strong connections with the previous Dean of Admissions, Brown was elected Rector[19] of the University of Edinburgh, the convener of the University Court. Brown served as Rector until 1975, and he also edited The Red Paper on Scotland.[20] Brown was denied a permanent post at Edinburgh due to his previous political activism as a student.[citation needed] Instead he gained employment as a lecturer in Politics at Glasgow College of Technology from 1976 to 1980. He then worked as a journalist at Scottish Television, later serving as current affairs editor until his election to parliament in 1983.[21]

In the 1979 general election, Brown stood for the Edinburgh South constituency, but lost to the Conservative candidate, Michael Ancram.[17]

Election to parliament and opposition

Gordon Brown was elected to Parliament on his second attempt as a Labour MP for Dunfermline East in 1983 general election and became opposition spokesman on Trade and Industry in 1985. In 1986, he published a biography of the Independent Labour Party politician James Maxton, the subject of his PhD thesis. Brown was Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1987 to 1989 and then Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, before becoming Shadow Chancellor in 1992.[17][22]

After the sudden death of Labour leader John Smith in May 1994, Brown was tipped as a potential party leader,[23] but did not contest the leadership after Tony Blair became favourite. It has long been rumoured a deal was struck between Blair and Brown at the former Granita restaurant in Islington,[24] in which Blair promised to give Brown control of economic policy in return for Brown not standing against him in the leadership election.[25] Whether this is true or not, the relationship between Blair and Brown has been central to the fortunes of "New Labour", and they have mostly remained united in public, despite reported serious private rifts.[26]

As Shadow Chancellor, Brown worked to present himself as a fiscally competent Chancellor-in-waiting, to reassure business and the middle class that Labour could be trusted to run the economy without fuelling inflation, increasing unemployment, or overspending – legacies of the 1970s. He publicly committed Labour to following the Conservatives' spending plans for the first two years after taking power.[27][28]

Following a reorganisation of parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, Brown became MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath at the 2005 election.[29]

Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer

Gordon Brown speaking at the annual World Bank/IMF meeting in 2002
See also Chancellorship of Gordon Brown

Brown's 10 years and 2 months as Chancellor of the Exchequer made him the longest-serving Chancellor in modern history.[16]

The Prime Minister's website singles out three achievements in particular from Brown's decade as Chancellor: presiding over "the longest ever period of growth", making the Bank of England independent and delivering an agreement on poverty and climate change at the G8 summit in 2005.[17]

Acts as Chancellor

  • Bank of England independence On taking office as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown gave the Bank of England operational independence in monetary policy, and thus responsibility for setting interest rates.
  • Tax In the 1997 election and subsequently, Brown pledged to not increase the basic or higher rates of income tax. Over his Chancellorship, he reduced the starting rate from 20% to 10% in 1999 before abolishing the starting rate in 2007, and reduced the basic rate from 23% to 20%. However, in all but his final budget, Brown increased the tax thresholds in line with inflation, rather than earnings, resulting in fiscal drag. Corporation tax fell under Brown, from a main rate of 33% to 28%, and from 24% to 19% for small businesses.[30]
  • Spending Once the two-year period of following the Conservatives' spending plans was over, Brown's 2000 Spending Review outlined a major expansion of government spending, particularly on health and education. In his April 2002 budget, Brown raised national insurance to pay for health spending. Brown changed tax policy in other ways, such as the working tax credits.[31][32]
  • Growth An OECD report[33] shows UK economic growth averaged 2.7% between 1997 and 2006, higher than the Eurozone's 2.1%, though lower than in any other English-speaking country. UK unemployment is 5.5%,[34] down from 7% in 1997 and lower than the Eurozone's average of 8.1%.
  • Euro In October 1997, Brown took control of the United Kingdom's membership of the European single currency issue by announcing the Treasury would set five economic tests[35] to ascertain whether the economic case had been made. In June 2003 the Treasury indicated the tests had not been passed.[36]
Gordon Brown meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006
  • Gold sales Between 1999 and 2002 Brown sold 60% of the UK's gold reserves at $275 an ounce.[37] It was later attacked as a "disastrous foray into international asset management"[38] as he had sold at close to a 20-year low. He pressured the IMF to do the same,[39] but it resisted. The gold sales have earned him the pejorative nickname Golden Brown, and there is also a satirical parody song by the same name. [1]
  • Spectrum auctions Under Brown, telecom radio frequency auctions gathered £22.5 billion for the government. By using a system of sealed bids and only selling a restricted number of licences, they extracted high prices from the telecom operators.[40] Germany at this time applied a similar auction, and these together caused a severe recession in the European telecoms development industry (2001 Telecoms crash) with the loss of 100,000 jobs across Europe, 30,000 of those in the UK.[41]
  • Debt relief and development Brown believes it is appropriate to remove much of the unpayable Third World debt but does not think all debt should be wiped out.[42] On 20 April 2006, in a speech to the United Nations Ambassadors, Brown outlined a "Green" view of global development.

Analysis of policies as Chancellor

  • Growth Brown states that his Chancellorship had seen the longest period of sustained economic growth in the history of the United Kingdom.[43][44] The details in Brown's growth figures have been challenged.[45][46]
  • Anti-Poverty The Centre for Policy Studies found that the poorest fifth of households, which accounted for 6.8% of all taxes in 1996-7, accounted for 6.9% of all taxes paid in 2004-5. Meanwhile, their share of state benefit payouts dropped from 28.1% to 27.1% over the same period.[47]
  • Tax According to the OECD UK taxation has increased from a 39.3% share of gross domestic product in 1997 to 42.4% in 2006, going to a higher level than Germany.[48] This increase has mainly been attributed to active government policy, and not simply to the growing economy.
  • Pensions The Conservatives have accused Brown of imposing "stealth taxes". A commonly reported example resulted in 1997 from a technical change in the way corporation tax is collected, the indirect effect of which was for the dividends on stock investments held within pensions to be taxed, thus lowering pension returns and contributing to the demise of some pension funds.[49] The Treasury contend that this tax change was crucial to long-term economic growth.

Other policy stances as Chancellor

Run up to succeeding Blair

Main articles Labour Party leadership election, 2007 and Timeline for the Labour Party leadership elections, 2007

In October 2004 Tony Blair announced he would not lead the party into a fourth general election, but would serve a full third term.[54] Political controversy over the relationship between Brown and Blair continued up to and beyond the 2005 election, which Labour won with a reduced parliamentary majority and reduced vote share. The two campaigned together but the British media remained – and remain – full of reports on their mutual acrimony.

Blair, under pressure from within his own party, announced on 7 September 2006 that he would step down within a year.[55] Brown was the clear favourite to succeed Blair for several years with experts and the bookmakers; he was the only candidate spoken of seriously in Westminster. Appearances and news coverage leading up to the handover were interpreted as preparing the ground for Brown to become Prime Minister, in part by creating the impression of a statesman with a vision for leadership and global change.

Brown is the first prime minister from a Scottish constituency since the Conservative/SUP Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1964. He is also one of only four prime ministers who attended a university other than Oxford or Cambridge, along with the Earl of Bute (Leiden), Lord John Russell (Edinburgh) and Neville Chamberlain (Mason Science College, later Birmingham).[56] Many Prime Ministers were not university-educated at all, including the Duke of Wellington, Benjamin Disraeli, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, James Callaghan and John Major.

On 9 September 2006 Charles Clarke said in an interview that the Chancellor had "psychological" issues he must confront and accused him of being a "control freak" and "totally uncollegiate". Brown was also "deluded", Clarke said, to think Blair can and should anoint him as his successor now.[57] Environment Secretary David Miliband stressed his support for Brown[58].

From January 2007 the media reported Brown had now "dropped any pretence of not wanting, or expecting, to move into Number 10 in the next few months" – although he and his family will likely use the more spacious 11 Downing Street.[59] This enabled Brown to signal the most significant priorities for his agenda as Prime Minister - stressing education, international development, narrowing inequalities (to pursue 'equality of opportunity and fairness of outcome'), renewing Britishness, restoring trust in politics, and winning hearts and minds in the war on terror as key priorities - speaking at a Fabian Society conference on 'The Next Decade' in January 2007.[60]

In March 2007 Brown's character was attacked by Lord Turnbull who worked for Brown as Permanent Secretary at the Treasury from 1998 to 2002. Turnbull accused Brown of running the Treasury with "Stalinist ruthlessness" and treating Cabinet colleagues with "more or less complete contempt".[61] This was especially picked-up on by the British media as the comments were made on the eve of Brown's budget report.

Brown as Prime Minister

See also Premiership of Gordon Brown

Brown ceased to be Chancellor and, upon the approval of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 27 June 2007.[4] Like all modern Prime Ministers, Brown concurrently serves as the First Lord of the Treasury and the Minister for the Civil Service, is a member of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom and, hence, also a Privy Counsellor. He is also Leader of the Labour Party and Member of Parliament for the constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. He is the sixth of the twelve post-war Prime Ministers to be appointed to the role without having won a general election. [62]


Brown has proposed moving some traditional prime ministerial powers conferred by royal prerogative to the realm of Parliament, such as the power to declare war and approve appointments to senior positions. Brown wants Parliament to gain the right to ratify treaties and have more oversight into the intelligence services. He has also proposed moving some powers from Parliament to citizens, including the right to form "citizen's juries", easily petition Parliament for new laws, and rally outside Westminster. He has asserted that the attorney general should not have the right to decide whether to prosecute in individual cases, such as in the loans for peerages scandal.[63]

During his Labour leadership campaign, Brown proposed some policy initiatives, suggesting that a Brown-led government would introduce the following:[64][65]

  • End to corruption Following the cash for honours scandal, Brown emphasised cracking down on corruption. This has led to a belief that Brown will introduce a new ministerial code which sets out clear standards of behaviour for ministers.[citation needed]
  • Constitutional reform Brown has not stated whether he proposes a U.S.-style written constitution – something the UK has never had – or a looser bill of rights. He said in a speech when announcing his bid that he wants a “better constitution” that is “clear about the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen in Britain today”. He plans to set up an all-party convention to look at new powers for Parliament . This convention may also look at rebalancing powers between Whitehall and local government. Brown has said he will give Parliament the final say on whether British troops are sent into action in future.
  • Housing House planning restrictions are likely to be relaxed. Brown said he wants to release more land and ease access to ownership with shared equity schemes. He backed a proposal to build five new eco-towns, each housing between 10,000 and 20,000 homeowners — up to 100,000 new homes in total.
  • Health Brown intends to have doctors' surgeries open at the weekends, and GPs on call in the evenings. Doctors were given the right of opting out of out-of-hours care two years ago, under a controversial pay deal, signed by then-Health Secretary John Reid, which awarded them a 22% pay rise in 2006. Brown stated that the NHS was his "top priority", yet he had just cut the capital budget of the English NHS from £6.2bn to £4.2bn.[66].

Foreign policy

Gordon Brown touring the slums of Nairobi, Kenya in 2005

Brown remains committed to the Iraq War, but said in a speech in June 2007 that he would "learn the lessons" from the mistakes made in Iraq.[67]

In a speech given to the Labour Friends of Israel in April 2007, Brown stated:

"Many of you know my interest in Israel and in the Jewish community has been long-standing... My father was the chairman of the Church of Scotland's Israel Committee. Not only as I've described to some of you before did he make visits on almost two occasions a year for 20 years to Israel – but because of that, although Fife, where I grew up, was a long way from Israel with no TV pictures to link us together – I had a very clear view from household slides and projectors about the history of Israel, about the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people, about the enormous suffering and loss during the Holocaust, as well as the extraordinary struggle that he described to me of people to create this magnificent homeland."[68]

Diplomatic relationship with the U.S.

There has been widespread speculation on the nature of the UK's relationship with the United States under Brown's government. A Washington, D.C. speech by Brown's close aide Douglas Alexander was widely reported as both a policy shift and a message to the U.S.[69]: "In the 21st century, strength should be measured on what we can build together ... we need to demonstrate by our deeds, words and our actions that we are internationalist, not isolationist, multilateralist, not unilateralist, active and not passive, and driven by core values, consistently applied, not special interests."

Brown with American President George W. Bush

However Downing Street's spokesman strongly denied the suggestion that Alexander was trying to distance Britain from U.S. foreign policy and show that Britain would not necessarily, in Tony Blair's words, stand "shoulder to shoulder" with George W. Bush over future military interventions[70]: "I thought the interpretation that was put on Douglas Alexander's words was quite extraordinary. To interpret this as saying anything at all about our relationship with the U.S. is nonsense."

Brown personally clarified his position;[71] "We will not allow people to separate us from the United States of America in dealing with the common challenges that we face around the world. I think people have got to remember that the relationship between Britain and America and between a British prime minister and an American president is built on the things that we share, the same enduring values about the importance of liberty, opportunity, the dignity of the individual. I will continue to work, as Tony Blair did, very closely with the American administration."

Married life and family

Brown's early girlfriends included the journalist Sheena McDonald, Marion Calder[22] and Princess Margarita, the eldest daughter of exiled King Michael of Romania. She has said about their relationship: "It was a very solid and romantic story. I never stopped loving him but one day it didn't seem right any more, it was politics, politics, politics, and I needed nurturing."[72]

Brown married Sarah Macaulay in a private ceremony at his home in North Queensferry, Fife, on 3 August 2000.[73] On 28 December 2001, a daughter, Jennifer Jane, was born prematurely and died on 8 January 2002. Gordon Brown commented at the time that their recent experiences had changed him and his wife:

"I don't think we'll be the same again, but it has made us think of what's important. It has made us think that you've got to use your time properly. It's made us more determined. Things that we feel are right we have got to achieve, we have got to do that. Jennifer is an inspiration to us."[74]

They have two children, John and James Fraser. In November 2006, James Fraser was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.[75]

Sarah Brown, unlike Cherie Blair, rarely appears at public events with her husband and until recently even missed his Budget speeches. She intends to remain out of the limelight as much as possible but accepts that her life will change as she moves into 10 Downing Street. She has never given a magazine or television interview and even inundated with requests now, she is unlikely to do so.[76]

Gordon Brown does not possess a driving licence.[77]

Of his two brothers, John Brown is Head of Public Relations in the Glasgow City Council.[78] His brother Andrew Brown has been Head of Media Relations in the UK for the French-owned utility company EDF Energy since 2004. He was previously director of media strategy at the world's largest public relations firm Weber Shandwick from June 2003 to 2004. Previously he was editor of the Channel 4 political programme Powerhouse from 1996 to 2003, and worked at the BBC from the late 1970s to early 1980s.[79]


Polluting car

Gordon Brown was criticised after the Treasury admitted he had not kept his promise to switch to a more environmentally friendly ministerial car.[80] Brown's aides briefed the media that he was preparing to exchange his existing car for a Toyota Prius, a hybrid car with relative high fuel efficiency. Brown has instead chosen a 4.2 litre Jaguar XJ V8 which falls into the government's worst emissions band.[81]

Links with nuclear power industry

Another controversial issue was the link between Brown's brother Andrew and one of the main nuclear lobbyists, EDF Energy,[82] given the finding that the government did not carry a proper public consultation on the use of nuclear power in its 2006 Energy Review.[83] Attention has also been drawn to the fact[84] that the father-in-law of Brown's closest adviser Ed Balls, Tony Cooper (father of the Labour minister Yvette Cooper) has close links with the nuclear industry. Cooper was described as an "articulate, persuasive and well-informed advocate of nuclear power over the last ten years" by the Nuclear Industry Association on his appointment as Chairman of the British Nuclear Industry Forum in June 2002. He is also a member of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and was appointed to the Energy Advisory Panel by the previous Conservative administration.[85].

Inviting Margaret Thatcher to Downing Street

There was mild controversy in September of 2007 over invitations by Brown to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; however, a spokesman dismissed accusations that this was an attempt to curry favour with "Middle England" saying that it is customary for Prime Ministers to invite their predecessors to Number 10.[86]

The "non-election"

Gordon Brown caused controversy during September and early October 2007 by letting speculation continue on whether he would call a snap general election. Following David Cameron's 'off the cuff' speech and an opinion poll showing Labour 6% behind the Conservative Party in key marginal seats, he finally announced that there would be no election in the near future and seemed to rule out an election in 2008.[87] This has been taken by some in the media and opposition as a sign of weakness.

Military covenant

November 2007 has seen Gordon Brown face intense criticism of not adhering to the military covenant, a convention within British politics stating that in exchange for them putting their lives at risk for the sake of national security, the armed forces should in turn be suitably looked after by the government.[88] Criticism has come from several former Chiefs of Defence, including General Lord Guthrie, First Sea Lord Lord Boyce, Air Chief Marshal Lord Craig, Field Marshal Lord Bramall and Field Marshal Lord Inge[89][90]. Poor housing, lack of equipment and adequate healthcare provisions are some of the major issues Brown has been accused of neglecting.

"Stealing" opposition policies

The Labour Government was alleged to have copied three opposition tax policies which had proven popular in the country. These included raising the inheritance tax threshold, taxing non-domiciles and taxing airlines for their pollution. This led to accusations of stealing policies and making up budgets as they went along, with no overall vision.[91]


Brown has continued to be dogged by controversy about not holding a referendum on the EU Treaty of Lisbon, despite a Labour manifesto pledge to give the British public a referendum on the original EU Constitution. Brown has argued that the Treaty significantly differs from the Constitution, and as such does not require a referendum. This approach has seen Brown come under heavy fire from opponents on both sides of the House and in the press[92]. Brown has responded with plans for a lengthy debate on the topic, stating that he believes the issue to be too complex for the British people to decide[93]. This has led to him being labelled patronising and out of touch with popular opinion. Brown's stubbornness on the issue may largely be due to the fact that he thinks he would lose a referendum on account of widespread Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom.

Depictions of Brown in popular culture

Brown's reputed dourness while holding a high public office comes across in the way he is portrayed on both the screen—where he was played by David Morrissey in the Stephen Frears directed TV movie The Deal and by Peter Mullen in the TV movie The Trial of Tony Blair—and stage: he features as a character in the 2007 Musical TONY! The Blair Musical, written by Chris Bush and Ian McCluskey. During its run in York, he was played by Bush, and then by Michael Slater at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and subsequently at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, London. Also drawing on this perception, radio presenter Nick Abbot plays a sound effect of Darth Vader because of the way Gordon Brown's jaw appears to detach as he breathes in.

In keeping with its tradition of having a comic strip for every Prime Minister, Private Eye features a comic strip, The Broonites (itself a parody of The Broons), parodying Brown's government. The Eye has also started a column titled "Prime Ministerial Decree", a parody of statements that would be issued by Communist governments in the former Eastern Bloc. This is in reference to a criticism of Brown having "Stalinist tendencies".

The Blair-Brown rivalry has also been the subject of substantial cultural attention, and indeed the television and stage productions mentioned above touch on it. Furthermore, the Franz Ferdinand song "You're the Reason I'm Leaving" (from You Could Have It So Much Better) is believed to be at least partially about the end of the Blair-Brown rivalry, as told from Blair's perspective. The song contains the lyric: I'd no idea that in four years I'd be hanging from a beam behind the door of number ten, singing "fare thee well, I am leaving, yes I leave it all to you."

See also

Labour politics:

Electoral history:

Current administration:

Brown as Chancellor


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Political offices
Preceded by
John Smith
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
1992 – 1997
Succeeded by
Kenneth Clarke
Preceded by
Kenneth Clarke
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1997 – 2007
Succeeded by
Alistair Darling
Preceded by
Tony Blair
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
2007 – present
Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Dunfermline East
Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament for Kirkcaldy
and Cowdenbeath

2005 – present
Party political offices
Preceded by
Tony Blair
Leader of the British Labour Party
2007 – present
Academic offices
Preceded by
Jonathon W. G. Wills
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
1973 – 1976
Succeeded by
Magnús Magnússon
Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Most Rev. and Rt Hon.
The Lord Archbishop of York
The Prime Minister
Succeeded by
The Rt Hon. Michael Martin, MP,
Speaker of the House of Commons