Gordon Brown: A Life in Politics

Gordon Brown’s A Life in Politics lecture at the LSE was as compelling as it was insightful, as the charismatic ex-Prime Minister took attendees on a journey of his political career. His talk opened with a humorous anecdote unveiling his first experience of the LSE was having £50 stolen from his jacket in the university library, following an overview of issues he encountered during his time in politics, whilst also offering his view of current affairs.

His talk began with a focus on leadership and what it means to be an effective leader. He solidifies this by saying the most important factor of leadership is a “clear and hopeful vision of the future, compelling enough to persuade people.” He then went on to apply this to the South-African anti-apartheid revolutionary, Nelson Mandela; his equal treatment of everyone, including his greeting to the Queen during one phone call as “hello, Elizabeth”, gave him a cohesive vision that enabled his political career to be so successful. When applying Brown’s own theory of leadership to his role as Labour Prime Minister, it is questionable that his governance serves as highly as his sense of humour. It is hard to ignore the illegitimacy of Brown’s role, as he inherited his position from Blair in 2007 and opinion polls for the Labour Party plummeted during the 2008 recession. Moreover, it is hard to decipher what Brown’s “clear and hopeful vision of the future” actually was. Although the ex- Prime Minister supported a range of legislation, he is not known for any iconic implementation or movement during his leadership; in conjunction with this, one can argue that Brown’s time as chancellor was more successful for him than his time as Prime Minister. However, his dealing with the recession meant that Brown was so consumed with domestic economic policy that it was difficult to produce revolutionary legislation. Leadership also goes hand in hand with public image; Brown was never known for his charisma, despite this shining through in his talk at the LSE. Opinion polls of Brown were generally negative throughout his governance, not to mention his faux pas with Gillian Duffy calling her ‘bigoted’. Following such a popular figurehead as Tony Blair was always going to be a challenge, but it is clear that Brown’s leadership skills do not adhere to his definition.

During his time as chancellor, Brown played a key role in some of Labour’s most praised pieces of legislation, including the minimum wage. The 2008 financial crisis also flaunted Brown’s ability to deal with economic decline, organising the G20 meetings in 2009, as well as naming tax havens and a 5% target for ‘go for growth’ inflation. However, Brown admits he “failed to convince the people to run a deficit”, provoking the highest rate of unemployment in 2011 after his leadership. Through this, we can see Brown’s prime focus in his career was economic policy, largely as a consequence of the recession.

The socialist ideological tenet of cooperation proved dear to Brown’s heart as he applied it to many political concepts. As well as his stress of popular sovereignty, Brown proposes the need for “global solutions to global problems” as “national prosperity relies on international cooperation.” In so many words, the ex-Prime Minister associates the failure to tackle issues like pollution and inequality as a lack of cohesion on an international scale. The compelling example of Trump’s economic policies was utilised by Brown to suggest that the slashing of imports in order to obtain a more nationalist approach to US politics, consequentially diminishes exports due to a lack of international cooperation. This is evidence that cooperation is the prime resource to economic success on a national scale, proving why Brexit is ultimately more pain than its worth. The critique of neo-liberalism also shined through as Brown claimed “autonomy is impossible in an interdependent world”, and that Labour is “swimming against the tide of a neo-liberal government”, whom wrongly puts inflation before unemployment.

The finality of Browns visit to the LSE ceased with an anecdote about the novelist Anthony Burgess. After meeting the author at Edinburgh festival, Burgess told Brown of a 21st chapter in his phenomenal book ‘A Clockwork Orange’ whereby the protagonist, Alex DeLarge, repents for his sins and embellishes the author’s Catholic background. However, this chapter was erased by publishers and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation. Brown brings this narrative back with a claim that “we need a chapter 21”. The government need to iron out all issues like Brexit, Priti Patel’s secret Israeli meetings and the surge of sexual misconduct allegations circling the Commons, in order to redeem themselves.

Angel Witney

@angelxwitney