Gordon Brown was the principal intellectual architect of the transformation of the United Kingdom's Labour Party from a moderately socialist party into an explicitly market-oriented social democratic party. Then, as the country's longest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer he made major changes to its system of economic and financial management, increased the country's investment in health and education, reduced the budget deficit, and resisted pressures to join the European Monetary Union. Subsequently, as Prime Minister, he took the lead in the international response to the financial crash of 2008 and managed the United Kingdom's recovery from the recession of 2009. After the Labour Party's defeat in the general election of 2010, he resigned from its leadership and returned to the opposition back benches as Member of Parliament for a Scottish constituency.
|A sequential account of major events in Gordon Brown's carreer (with links to contemporary announcements and news reports) is available on the timelines subpage|
- 1 Personal history
- 2 Parliamentary career
- 3 Personal relations
- 4 Assessments
- 5 References
James Gordon Brown was born on 20 February 1951. He was born in Glasgow but most of his childhood was spent in Kirkcaldy, across the Firth from Edinburgh. He was the son of the Church of Scotland minister Rev John Brown, whom he later described as "rigid". Of the community in which he grew up he was later to write that there was:
- "... a largely unquestioned conviction that we could learn from each other and call on each other in times of need... our neighbours were part also of what we were".
As a child (and in later life), he supported the Raith Rovers football team. He earned pocket money by selling their programmes and produced a newspaper with his brothers, which they sold for charity. At the age of 10 he became a subject of a "fast-track" schools experiment run by schools in Fife, and he entered Kirkcaldy High School two years ahead of his age group. At school, he was a keen rugby player school, but he had to abandon the game after suffering a blow to the head from an opponent's boot, and was diagnosed with detached retinas. The sight of his right eye was restored after a two-year course of surgery involving week-long periods in which he had to lie still in the dark. At the age of 16, he was accepted by the University of Edinburgh from which he graduated with First Class honours in history in 1972. He was well-known and popular at the university, and became one of its student rectors in 1973. He submitted his thesis on "The Labour Party and Political Change in Scotland 1918-29", and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, nine years later, after a period of academic life, mainly as a lecturer in politics. He was an active supporter of the Labour Party throughout his student days and after, and he was elected as a member of its Scottish Executive in 1973. In 1976 he was selected as prospective parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Edinburgh South, but was defeated by his Conservative opponent in the 1979 general election. After a stint as a current affairs journalist on Scottish Television, he became Labour Party candidate for the new constituency of Dunfermline East; which he won in the general election of 1983. He made an immediate impression on the party leadership and was later described by one of them as " the most impressive young MP I ever met — erudite, eloquent, intellectual, unassuming, industrious and, most important of all, clear and certain about the better society he hoped to see.". Despite being a critic of many of its policies, he rose rapidly up its hierarchy, with a series of appointments as opposition spokesman, to gain a position on the party's shadow cabinet. He was married to public relations executive Sarah Macaulay in August 2000. Their first child, Jennifer Jane was born prematurely in December 2001, but died of a brain tumour in the following month. They subsequently had two sons, John Macaulay and James Frazer, the latter of whom was diagnosed in 2006 as suffering from cystic fibrosis.. In his resignation speech, he said: " as I leave the second most important job I could ever hold, I cherish even more the first – as a husband and father"
In opposition, Gordon Brown, devoted himself to the consideration of ways in which current economic thinking could be applied to the management of the United Kingdom economy, and when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997, he introduced major changes to the conduct of the country's monetary and fiscal policies. His monetary policy was targeted directly upon the control of inflation, the stated purpose of his fiscal policy was the maintenance of stability, and his public expenditure plans included major increases in spending on health and education – without increasing his predecessor's budget deficit. His management of the economy was generally considered at the time to have been successful, and he enjoyed positive opinion poll ratings throughout his time as Chancellor. He became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 2007 and, after his initially well-received response to the financial crash of 2008, he rapidly lost popularity, mainly as a result of being held responsible for the country's recession of 2009 and its subsequent financial problems. By 2010 his opinion poll ratings had fallen to the lowest level experienced by a British Prime Minister, and he ceased to be Prime Minister after his government's defeat in the general election of May 2010.
Introduction: New Labour
| "... markets are part of advancing the public interest and the left are wrong to say they are not;|
...markets are not always in the public interest and the right is wrong to automatically equate the imposition of markets with the public interest."
"The challenge for New Labour is, while remaining true to our values and goals, to have the courage to affirm that markets are a means of advancing the public interest; to strengthen markets when they work and to tackle market failures to enable markets to work better."
When Gordon Brown became a Labour Member of Parliament in 1983, a battle was raging between the party's parliamentary leaders and its grass-roots activists. The leadership had largely abandoned its earlier policy of nationalisation in the course of the 1970s, but the party's constitution still contained a clause that committed it to comprehensive nationalisation, and its re-adoption as an active policy was vigorously sought by the self-styled Militant Tendency that regarded market capitalism as an instrument of oppression. The reforming zeal of party leader Neil Kinnock, and his successor, John Smith, gradually prevailed over the party's militant minority, but Gordon Brown urged them to go further in modernising its policies. He and the like-minded Tony Blair were influenced by the Third Way advocacy of Anthony Giddens at the London School of Economics, and the communitarian thinking of Amitai Etzioni  at George Washington University in the United States.
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair together created New Labour as a party that had retained its traditions, but abandoned its former ideology: giving priority to growth over redistribution or wealth, and advocating the market system as a the key to growth. Their 1997 election manifesto was to say that "New Labour is a party of ideas and ideals but not of outdated ideology. What counts is what works", and contained no proposals to reverse their opponents extensive privatisation and deregulation measures. That approach was thought at the time to have marked an end to the left/right divide in the United Kingdom's politics that up to then had resulted in a major policy swing with every change of government.
| "He was, in every political way but one, the superior member of the Brown-Blair partnership. The exception was charm."
"He taught me the essence of how to put my arguments across"
Although they had little else in common, the new MPs, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, were high-fliers who had a shared conviction that they could create an electable Labour Party and then a high-achieving Labour government. They shared an office in the 1980s and were seen by their fellow-MPs as an inseparable team. Their campaign to change the party was joined in 1987 by Peter Mandelson (then the party's Director of Campaigns and Communications and later to become a Member of Parliament himself). The changes that they brought about over the following ten years were eventually to be reflected in the party's 1997 election manifesto - changes that were designed to overcome voters' misgivings about the party's ideology as well as presenting an attractive programme of reform.
The first of the major rejections of the party's once-cherished doctrines was the formal abandonment of industrial nationalisation (as reflected in the revision of Clause IV of the party's constitution), and a tacit acceptance of all of the previous administration's deregulation measures. Secondly, there was an explicit undertaking not to repeal the Conservative government's industrial relations legislation - which had outlawed the closed shop (union shop), secondary action (strikes in support of another union's dispute), and strikes called by union officials without first balloting their members. Thirdly and fourthly, the party's policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament was abandoned, and its traditional aversion to the European Union was reversed.
Among New Labour's positive objectives the highest priority was given to an increase in educational standards by raising the level of investment, reducing class sizes and closing failing schools, and it was also considered important to increase investment in the National Health Service. It was considered essential, however, to dispel the popular impression that the election of a Labour government would lead to big increases in taxation, public expenditure and budget deficits. There was an undertaking not to increase the basic or higher tax rates, and initially to accept the previous government's public spending plans, as well as proposal to confine government borrowing to the financing of investment.
According to Anthony Seldon, Tony Blair's biographer, Gordon Brown had been the star of the 1983 intake of Labour Members of Parliament, and his leadership had been acknowledged by Tony Blair and others throughout the rest of the 1980s. By the time of John Smith's death in 1994, however, Tony Blair had become the more popular among Labour Members of Parliament and with the public (and, in a MORI opinion poll Tony Blair scored 32 percent against Gordon Brown's 9 per cent). That much is relatively uncontroversial, but there have been many conflicting accounts of the relations between them in the following months. It is an established fact that Gordon Brown did not stand for election to the Labour party leadership and a consensus that he obtained, in return, promise of untramelled control of economic policy as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the next Labour Government.
Tony Blair was duly elected leader of the Labour Party in 1994 and, in the General Election of 1997, the Labour Party won a sweeping victory over its Conservative opponents.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1997-2007
| "The Chancellor... is without peer among the world's economic policy makers.
On becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown introduced two fundamental changes to the conduct of economic policy. On monetary policy, he replaced the existing money supply target with an inflation target and delegated responsibility for its operation to the Bank of England. On fiscal policy, he announced the adoption of the Code for Fiscal Stability which would limit its conduct by the adoption of two rules: the Golden Rule - that over the economic cycle, the government would borrow only to invest and not for public consumption; and the sustainable investment rule - that, over the economic cycle, the government would ensure the level of the national debt as a proportion of national income would be held at a "stable and prudent level" (subsequently interpreted as up to 40 per cent of GDP). He also announced the entry criteria that would be used to decide the question of the United Kingdom's membership of the forthcoming European Monetary Union, on the basis of which he stated that"it is not in this country's interest to join in the first wave of EMU starting on 1st January 1999" . He subsequently announced major increases in public expenditure mainly to increase investment and staffing levels in schools and hospitals. His tax and benefit changes benefited poorer households at the expense of richer ones, but the incomes of the richest households nevertheless grew more than those of the poorest, and there was a slight rise in income inequality.
Gordon Brown was the United Kingdom's longest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer and opinion poll reports indicate that he retained the confidence of the British people throughout his tenure of that office. During his tenure, he had reduced the budget deficit to slightly below the level it inherited from his predecessor, and had reduced the national debt to below its previous level. Public sector investment had accounted for all the funds that had been borrowed, expenditure on the public services had been increased and there had been substantial improvements in the publicly-financed health and education services. The Great Recession commenced shortly after the end of his stint as Chancellor, and the United Kingdom entered it with a smaller public debt burden than most of the other advanced G20 countries.
The first term: 1997-2001
In his first term as Chancellor, Gordon Brown used fiscal policy to relieve poverty and reduce unemployment - and did so without increasing borrowing. The centrepiece of his first budget was a welfare-to-work scheme designed to help the young and long-term unemployed back into work, financed by a one-off tax on the privatised utilities. In his budget speech,, he presented a five-year plan aimed at reducing the structural budget deficit, and reaffirmed his intention to adhere for two years to his predecessor's public spending programme. In his 1999 budget he replaced the existing family support system with the more ambitious Working Families Tax Credit to support low-income families with children, and to encourage participation in the labour market by increasing the financial rewards from working. Other fiscal measures in his first term included reductions in business tax rates, the introduction of a climate change levy, an increase in the stamp duty on house purchase, and the abolition of the MIRAS (Mortgage Interest Relief At Source) subsidy on house purchase. The net effect of the tax and benefit changes during the first Labour government was a transfer in favour of the poor in which the income of those in the lowest two income deciles increased by about 8 per cent 
By the end of his first term in office he was able to announce that the budget balance had been converted from the deficit of 2.4 per cent of national income that he had inherited from his predecessor, to a surplus of 2.4 per cent in 2000-01, and that the national debt had been reduced from 42.5 per cent of GDP in 1996–97 to 30.7 per cent in 2000–01.
Second and third terms 2001-2007
| "By 2007 Labour had reduced public sector borrowing slightly below the level it inherited from the Conservatives. And more of that borrowing was being used to finance investment rather than the day-to-day running costs of the public sector. Labour had also reduced public sector debt below the level it had inherited"
In his second term as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown turned his attention to the objectives of raising the standards of publicly-provided health services and education. He raised the (inflation-corrected) annual growth rate of spending on public services over the period 1997 to 2008, to 4.6 per cent from its previous (1979-97) level of 0.7 per cent, including an increase in health spending to 6.3 per cent from its previous rate of 3.2 per cent, and an increase in education spending to 4.3 per cent from its previous rate of 1.5 per cent . He also increased the growth of defence spending, and maintained the previous growth rate of spending on public order and safety. He did not match those spending increases with commensurate tax increases, and the current budget balance moved from its 2000-01 surplus of 2.4 per centof national income to a deficit of 0.3 per cent of national income by 2007–08, and the national debt increased to 36.5 per cent of national income.
Under his leadership, each of the Treasury's assessments indicated that the criterion for the country's membership of the European Monetary Union had not been met.
Prime Minister 2007-2010
In June 2007, Tony Blair retired from office and Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, and Alistair Darling became Chancellor of the Exchequer. During Gordon Brown's first year as Prime Minister he put forward a programme of constitutional changes that were intended to bring about a major shift of decision-making power to Parliament from the executive branch of government, which were developed during the following years but did not come fully into fruition before his government's defeat in 2010. He also clarified the government's foreign policy in a speech that reaffirmed his predecessor's position on intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere and sought to place them in a coherent framework; and another that set out his government's position on climate change.
| "...the Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, least of all our own."
The remaining years of his premiership were dominated by the developing financial crisis that began with the crash of 2008. The first signs of its impending impact on the United Kingdom came towards the end of 2007 when it emerged that many of its banks had suffered serious losses as a result of their involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis. Commentators forecast a more severe downturn in the UK economy than in the other countries that were affected (because of its larger financial sector and its exceptionally large level of household debt), together with a larger increase in its budget deficit as a result of falling tax revenues from its financial and property sectors.
The full extent of the crash did not develop until September 2008 when the failure of the Lehman Brothers investment bank led to a banking panic that was so severe as to threaten the collapse of the international financial system. Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling responded with a rescue package for British banks , and an international campaign to persuade other governments to adopt similar measures in support their banks. During the following months, the British example was followed by other European countries  and similar measures were adopted by the United States.
The Conservative opposition party supported Gordon Brown's rescue plan, but at the same time, they launched an attack on his economic policies which, they argued, had made a major contribution to the severity of the crisis. That accusation was considered to be justified by most of the British press, and his public spending when Chancellor was widely referred to as "profligate". That assessment of Gordon Brown's record as Chancellor of the Exchequer came to be accepted by most of the
| "You presided over the biggest economic disaster of our lifetime and we will not let you forget it."
" The complete and utter failure of their economic record has never been more clear to see"
"Our debt crisis is ... the result of reckless spending"
"I have not yet received a single apology for the appalling mess that we have been left, but at some stage, the Labour party will have to wake up and realise what a mess it made of the British economy."
Gordon Brown's popularity suffered a further decline in the course of the recession of 2009. There was a major decline in output, accompanied by an increase in unemployment as a result of which there was a major reduction in the government's tax revenues and a consequent increase in the budget deficit. It was widely believed that the resulting structural deficit had been the result of Gordon Brown's actions as Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was a consensus among United Kingdom commentators that Gordon Brown's economic policies had contributed significantly to Britain's problems.
As the economy began to recover from the recession of 2009, there was general agreement about the desireability of reducing the size of the budget deficit. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling had inherited from Gordon Brown a deficit of 2.7 per cent of national income (which was above the OECD average, but lower than the deficit that Gordon Brown had inherited from his predecessor). The structural deficit - which is the portion of the deficit that is expected to persist after recessionary influences have ceased - was estimated to have risen as a result of the recession from about 2 per cent to about 9 per cent of national income. The government adopted a statutory obligation to achieve a 50 per cent reduction by the end of 2014 and proposed to begin reducing the level of the budget deficit in 2011, but his Conservative opponents proposed an immediate deficit reduction of about 4 per cent and its elimination by 2014. That policy difference became one of the issues in the general election of 2010, with Gordon Brown and others warning of the risk that an early reduction would halt the recovery, and David Cameron and others  warning of the risk that a delay would cause a rise in interest payments as investors lost confidence in the government's integrity.
There are no objective accounts of Gordon Brown's relations with his colleagues. The first-hand accounts that are available are mainly from people with whom he had serious disagreements, and whose recollections might be expected to have been influenced by mixtures of anger, resentment, friendship and loyalty. The following accounts by Tony Blair, Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson are in that category. It is also to be expected that much of the very large volume of second-hand information on the subject may be coloured by the subjective reactions of journalists and their sources. It would appear reasonable to attach greater weight to extensively-researched biographical material based on interviews with a comprehensive range of protagonists. The concluding paragraph on the subject draws upon on such material.
|An account of Tony Blair's relationship with Gordon Brown is available under the heading Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the article on Tony Blair.|
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair had what Tony Blair has described as "genuine and sincere liking for each other" , and he has described their arguments as rivals for the leadership of New Labour as difficult but not unfriendly - rather like a loving couple trying to decide whose career should come first. He used the same metaphor when describing their later, and more strained, relationship; "like some quarelling married couple, we let emotion run out on the pitch before thinking". However, he has also described his experience of their disagreements as "like facing the dentist's drill without anaesthetics". At the time of his departure from government, Tony Blair's misgivings about Gordon Brown's performance as his successor were concerned with what he considered to be his lack of instinct "at the human, gut level", which he summed up as "emotional intelligence: zero".
Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown were friends in a different way. Their homes were only a few miles apart, and Alistair Darling recalls that they and their families used to see a lot of each other - although he sometimes sensed that Gordon Brown found socialising with him "a bit effortful". They had a necessarily close working relationship as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Alistair Darling recalls that Gordon Brown was not an easy man to work with. He saw him as a man who was capable of "huge gestures of generosity", but who had no conception of the effects of his "sometimes appalling behaviour" on those around him. He notes that Gordon Brown attracted - and expected - "fierce loyalty", and that he showed himself on several occasions to be willing to tolerate outrageously partisan behaviour by his followers. In his 2010 interview with Sky News, Alistair Darling expressed his resentment at their behaviour, when he alleged that "No 10 unleashed the forces of hell on me" over a disagreement with Gordon Brown (behaviour for which Gordon Brown denied responsibility).
Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge
In the chapter on Gordon Brown in his biography of Tony Blair, Anthony Seldon comes to the conclusion that the positive influences of the Blair/Brown relationship had far outweighed the negatives, and that the outside world had thought the relationship to be more destructive than it was. However, he sees Gordon Brown as given to brooding, introspection and suspicion, dogged throughout their relationship by the belief that he had been robbed of his due inheritance as Prime Minister. In their book Brown at 10, Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge report that he showed little interest in most of his colleagues and did not make them feel that he valued them, but that he had deep sympathy for anyone in difficulty. They reject the popular view that he was a bully, but acknowledge that many felt bruised by the way he treated them, and that, when he felt let down, he behaved like a spoilt child, only to make a grovelling apology shortly after.
|TB denotes Tony Blair: A Journey, Hutchinson, 2010, and AB denotes Alistair Darling: Back from the Brink, Atlantic Books, 2011.|
- Empowering Local Centres of Initiative (speeches)
- Roy Hattersley, writing in The Times of May 11 2010
- Who is Sarah Brown?, The Independent, 3 June 2007
- Brown's son has cystic fibrosis, BBC News 29 November 2006
- Transcript of Gordon Brown's election speech, Guardian, 14 May 2010
- Robert Chote, Rowena Crawford, Carl Emmerson and Gemma Tetlow: The public finances: 1997 to 2010, Institute of Fiscal Studies, 2010
- Clause IV is quoted in full in the article on the Labour Party
- The Rise of Militant 1964-1997 (the Socialist Party website)
- Anthony Giddens: The Third Way. The Renewal of Social Democracy, Polity, 1998
- Amitai Etzioni (ed)| The Essential Communitarian Reader, Rowman & Littlefield, 1998  (Google abstract)
- Anthony Seldon: Blair, pp 96 & 120, Free Press, 2004
- New Labour Because Britain Deserves Better, Labour Party Election Manifesto, 1997
- Anthony Seldon: Blair, pages 660 and 188 Free Press, 2004
- Letter from the Chancellor to the Governor: 6 May 1997 - Annex 1 of Peter Rodgers Changes at the Bank of England, Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin: August 1997
- A Code for Fiscal Stability, H M Treasury November 1997
- Statement by the Chancellor on the Economic and Monetary Union, H M Treasury 27 October 1997
- Robert Chote, Rowena Crawford, Carl Emmerson and Gemma Tetlow: Public Spending Under Labour, Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2010
- Tom Chatfield and David Lowe: How We Changed Under Labour, Prospect, May 2010
- M. Brewer, A. Muriel, D. Phillips and L. Sibieta: Poverty and Inequality in the United Kingdom 2009 , Commentary no. 109, Institute for Fiscal Studies, London, 2009
- Alastair Muriel, David Phillips and Luke Sibieta: Living standards, inequality and poverty: Labour’s record, Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2010
- UK Polling Report, 2010
- Richard Layard: Welfare-to-Work and the New Deal, Centre for Economic Performance London School of Economics and Political Science, January 2001
- Lucy Chennells: The Windfall Tax, Institute of Fiscal Studies 1998
- , Gordon Brown: Budget Speech 1997
- Andrew Dilnot and Julian McCrae: The Family Credit System and the Working Families’ Tax Credit in the United Kingdom, Institute for Fiscal Studies, September 1999
- Bond, Alexander Klemm and Helen Simpson: Labour and Business Taxes, Institute for Fiscal Studies, May 2001
- Tax Relief, Mortgages .co.uk
- Michal Myck: Fiscal Reforms Since May 1997, Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2000
- The Governance of Britain, a Green Paper presented to Parliament in July 2007
- Lord Mayor's Banquet Speech, 12 November 2007
- Speech to the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, 19 November 2007
- For example, Anatole Kaletsky in The Economist of 15 November 2007
- Rescue plan for UK banks unveiled, BBC News, 8 October 2008
- Paul Krugman: Gordon Does Good, October 12, 2008
- Andrew Rawnsley: The weekend Gordon Brown saved the banks from the abyss, The Guardian, 21 February 2010
- Lucia Quaglia: The ‘British Plan’ as a Pace-Setter: The Europeanization of Banking Rescue Plans in the EU?, Wiley Online Library, 20 October 2009
- The head of the IMF advocated a coordinated fiscal stimulus of 2 per cent of GDP 
- Pre-Budget Report 2008, National archives]
- Osborne: Brown's borrowing risks run on the pound, Guardian, 15 November 2008
- Robert Chote, Carl Emmerson and Gemma Tetlow: Green Budget 2008, Institute for Fiscal Studies, March 2008
- Economic Report Number 3, TUC, October 2010 Chart 2 (from the Treasury public finances database[http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/public_finances_databank.xls)]
- The Fiscal Responsibility Act 2010
- Cost cutting is bad for recovery, letter from 77 economists, The Times, 15 April, 2010
- Business leaders support Osborne's big cuts, Sharecast, 18 Oct 2010
- TB p68
- TB p71
- TB p506
- AD p322
- TB p616
- AD p245
- AD p322
- AD p33
- Miranda Richardson and Ruth Barnett PM: I Never Unleashed Hell On My Chancellor, Sky News Online, February 24, 2010
- Anthony Seldon: Blair, Free Press, 2004, pages 660-700
- Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge: Brown at 10, Biteback, 2010, pages xxii-xxiii