Man out of Time: Gordon Brown: Tom Bower's Gordon Brown (HarperCollins 2004) Gordon Brown's Moving Britain Forward: Selected Speeches, 1997--2006 (Bloomsbury 2006) Robert Peston's Brown's Britain (Short Books 2005)
McDermott, John, Kennedy School Review
Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 27 June 2007. A fascinating character study, Brown is one of the true intellectual forces in contemporary politics, yet little is known of Brown outside of Britain. Committed to international development, to the Anglo-American "special relationship," and to ensuring "British values" in an increasingly interconnected world, Brown will invariably be a key player in the international arena over the next few years.
"It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine," observed P.G. Wodehouse. Gordon Brown, the former chancellor of the exchequer (the second most important position in British politics, with responsibility for economic and fiscal policy) and new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is not known for his chipper demeanor. An intensely private man, Brown nevertheless attracts an array of epithets from critics (dour, brooding, uncompromising) and allies (intellectual, loyal, farsighted) alike. Ever since he was allegedly described by Blair's former director of communications Alistair Campbell as having "psychological flaws," the study of his character has meant more than a mere portrayal of tortured introspection. Rather, it has become central to his desire to retain the premiership.
No less important is Brown's record as chancellor. At first glance his prudent stewardship of the economy has few echoes of that other famous Scotsman from Brown's small hometown of Kirkcaldy, Adam Smith. Yet Brown has attempted to balance "the invisible hand" famously described in The Wealth of Nations with the lesser known, but in Smith's opinion, equally important "helping hand" discussed in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. His tenure can be seen as a decade-long effort to encourage enterprise while ensuring social justice. Granting the Bank of England the power to set interest rates and cutting capital gains tax was coupled with radical welfare-to-work schemes and the introduction of a minimum wage. Self-imposed constraints, Brown argues, provided stability to an economy hitherto associated with oscillating periods of boom and bust.
But Brown has been more than just a competent economic manager. He used the power of the purse to garner unprecedented control of domestic policy. As the legend goes, this was Brown's reward from the deal made with Blair in 1994 where he agreed not to stand against his erstwhile junior colleague for the Labour leadership in exchange for broad powers in economic and social policy. This ostensible pact has provided fertile fodder for the speculative British press. Regardless of its veracity, Brown ensured his influence stretched far beyond the confines of the treasury. Inevitably, this extended writ, combined with an infamous lack of tact, raised the ire of cabinet colleagues. Given this animosity, it remains in doubt whether Brown, as prime minister, can inspire the same loyalty as the gregarious Blair.
According to Tom Bower, a chancellor "oblivious to everything other than his own truths" is unlikely to cut an emollient presence. His polemical biography ruthlessly examines the psychology and political machinations of the would-be prime minister. Brown's childhood under the aegis of his father, a Presbyterian minister, is interpreted as the incipience of a life led with religious angst. To understand an upbringing as the "son of the manse" is to understand Brown. Equipped with "an osmotic understanding of the Bible" and surrounded by the poverty widespread in postwar Scotland, Brown developed compassion for those around him. Scottish Presbyterianism with its avowal of egalitarianism and hard work laid the foundations for his political philosophy. Presbyterianism dovetailed with socialism defined Brown's years as a precocious student at Edinburgh University. His doctoral thesis on the Scottish leader of the Independent Labour Party (a radical scion of the more popular movement), James Maxton, offered a historical compliment to his nascent activism. …