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Gordon Brown and the making of a Prime Minister

2007 June 28
by Paul Vallely

The ships are far bigger than the ones which, 300 years ago, Kirkcaldy’s most famous son, Adam Smith, would sit and watch as a boy. But they transmit the same message about the importance of trade and markets which led Smith to produce The Wealth of Nations, the book that made him the father of modern economics. It is a message that has been learnt too by Gordon Brown, Kirkcaldy’s second most famous son (unless you count the twice world darts champion Jocky Wilson who still lives there). And the rest of the town has slowly been learning it too.

For the past few weeks, I have been visiting the places that have shaped the political personality of the man who has become the first British prime minister appointed in the 21st century. I have spoken – on and off the record – to people who encountered him on his journey to No 10. Though he was a born in Glasgow, his parents were both from Fife, and Mr Brown lived there from the age of three. His formative years were spent in Kirkcaldy. It was the place to start.

The old industries on which the town once depended – coal mines and linoleum factories – were in decline when Gordon was a boy. They are long gone now, though a solitary Dutch-owned factory still produces an allergy-free luxury floor covering called Marmoleum. Today Kirkcaldy, which was a few years ago named as the third poorest town in Britain, has a shrinking chemical and engineering industry. The biggest employers are the local authority, the health service and the call centres for Sky TV and others on the John Smith Business Park (not perhaps what the man who was once Gordon Brown’s mentor would have envisaged).

The most prominent new building in the town centre is a massive brutalist Tesco that sits like some huge Lego building a child has plonked down in the middle of his big brother’s Hornby train set. It is a symbol of the new commercial reality that has imposed itself upon this otherwise well-proportioned little Scottish town.

But the social values engendered by the old days remain. “It is a friendly old-fashioned place,” said Judy Hamilton, a councillor for the town’s central district and a justice of the peace. She moved to Kirkcaldy nearly 20 years ago from Rochdale. “With a population of 70,000, it’s a place where people still know each other. Here Gordon Brown is warm, accessible and not at all remote. During the last elections he campaigned with me and people came running out of their houses to have their photos taken with him.”

Local opinion was summed up by a man whose career symbolised the transition from heavy industry to a modern service economy. An ex-miner turned renal dialysis nurse called Charlie told me: “I’ve never heard a single bad word about him in this town. You have this image down south that he’s dour and mean and suspicious. But wait and see.”


Raith Rovers Football Club is the embodiment of the strong sense of community solidarity and loyalty which were the first influence on Gordon Brown’s political personality. This year, the team lost in the play-offs in the Scottish second division. But, despite that, the gates are good at Stark’s Park, on the edge of the town centre where – as a boy – Gordon and his brothers sold programmes to gain free entry at half-time.

Rovers are the best-supported side in the second division despite their glory days being long gone. It is 12 years since they beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final and went into Europe where the high point of the club’s 120-year history was a scoreboard which at one point – famous in local legend – read Bayern Munich 0  Raith Rovers 1.

Brown, who prides himself on an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish football statistics, is still a regular at the draughty little ground whose rickety stands conjure the atmosphere of football in the 1950s and afford little protection from the chill winds that blow off the North Sea.

“He came to nearly half the home games last season,” said John Drysdale, the club’s community and commercial manager. And when the club went into financial crisis 18 months ago Brown used his contacts to bring local investors into a community buy-out of the club. To the anxiety of his security men, Brown, as Chancellor, insisted on mixing with the supporters. They are more than constituents. They are the people he grew up with.

There are those who say that Fife has shaped him far more profoundly. The land between the Firths of Forth and Tay has been an independent kingdom since long before the murky medieval days when Macbeth murdered King Duncan who was avenged by the Thane of Fife, Macduff.

Its occupants pride themselves on being different from other Scots; one cherished characteristic is, in Scots, that of being “thrawn”, which translates as stubborn, cross-grained and defiant. Fifers have long memories, and brag of making good friends but bad enemies. There are plenty in Westminster who will concur.


In Fife, they see no contradiction between friendliness and stubborn insularity, just as Brown sees none between the views of Adam Smith, that high-priest of free enterprise, and his own insistence on the importance of social justice.

“If you’re going to have social justice and fairness you need a successful economy,” said Brown’s constituency agent Alex Rowley, who was born and bred in Kirkcaldy. “In the Eighties, the Tories tried to turn Adam Smith into this totemic figure who was anti what the Labour movement stood for but here he’s remembered as the man who wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments before he wrote The Wealth of Nations.”

Though the latter came to be seen as the bible of laissez-faire economics at its most heartless, Smith seems clear from his first book, which he republished after the success of the second, that it rested on a strong sense of the need for social and civic responsibility.

“Gordon’s agenda has always been that you can have both,” said Alex Rowley. “Helping poor families is key to his vision – which is why he has enacted tax credits, support for pensioners, lifted children out of poverty.” But he sees jobs, not benefits, as the key to that. Under Brown’s chancellorship there are a record 29 million people in work – more than at any time in our history.

“But within the constituency, Gordon has always stressed it’s not about taking from the rich to give to the poor. It’s not the politics of envy. It’s about empowering people to succeed. The biggest thing that shaped him – a far bigger influence than that of the community of Kirkcaldy was his upbringing in the manse.”


There is a plaque on the altar table in the church in which Gordon Brown’s father was once the minister. “John Ebenezer Brown MA BD 1954-1967”, it says. It stands no longer in the centre of the church, however, but in a stairway. For there have been changes at St Bryce Kirk.

Seven years ago, the congregation decided to fix a false floor across the church, leaving the upper floor beneath the soaring nave for worship, and turning the new ground floor into a community centre. Today the pulpit from which the Rev John Brown once delivered sermons – with titles such as “Our Need of Vision”, “Making The Best Use of Time” and “Today’s Christian Duty” – has gone. The church is home to more secular activity.

Upstairs, they still get an average congregation of almost 300 with a good age range for the family service on a Sunday, but downstairs, seven days a week, the place is used by groups for toddlers, the elderly and cancer support groups, for Tai Chi classes, by Fife Opera and for exam overspills for the Adam Smith College over the road. Hilary Marshall, the church administrator, explained: “It’s a deliberate strategy to get people in, make them comfortable with the church and represent how a Christian lives and make God relevant to them today.” One side aisle has been converted into a cafeteria serving soup and sandwich lunches, with homemade quiches and cakes. “When homeless people come, we can give them food not money.”

It is something of which, one suspects, the Rev John E Brown would have approved. The back door of the stark stone manse down the road where the new Prime Minister was brought up had frequent visitors from down-and-outs and hard-up families whose only income, as the pits and factories closed came from gathering sea-coal from the town’s blackened beaches. These people knew that they wouldn’t leave empty-handed.

Here, religion was not confined to the saying of prayers. It was enacted through social action in a world where, as Brown was later to put it, “as a minister’s son you see every problem coming to your doorstep. You become aware of a whole range of distress and social problems. I suppose it’s not a bad training for politics.”


For all the grandeur of its name, the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion is one of the least prepossessing of Edinburgh’s fine public buildings. It is a square block of glass and badly-weathered concrete but it was a state-of-the- art building when Gordon Brown was admitted there back in 1967. Upstairs in its library I met Dr Hector Chawla, who in 2001, retired as director of the Pavilion and of the Scottish Retina Service. He is a small precise man with the fastidious quality one would hope for in a surgeon. He was the man who saved Gordon Brown from total blindness.

The precocious young Brown, who had been fast-tracked to Edinburgh University at the age of just 16, had only been in the city a matter of days when he was diagnosed with a detached retina in his left eye. Towards the end of his final term at Kirkcaldy High School, he had been playing wing forward in a rugby match between the School First XV and Old Boys, he went down on the ball and took a kick on the head in a loose scrum.

Three operations were performed at the hospital. All failed. He was left permanently blind in his left eye, despite treatment that included lying still on his back in a darkened room for weeks at a time. Then, a few months later, while playing tennis, he noticed the same symptoms in his right eye.

“Much of what has been written about this is wrong,” said Dr Chawla. “He had a vulnerability before the bang on the head. The first three operations were not botched. They were done by a good surgeon who was working with the technique that was available at the time which only had a 30 per cent success rate. The problem was that the only techniques available did not enable them to see where the retina was detached. I had learned a technique in Chicago using a binocular indirect ophthalmoscope – it was not done with a laser as is often said – which meant it was possible to see all the retina.

“He had one operation on his right eye, carried out by me, which restored his vision in that eye completely. With one eye, you lose your depth of vision which affects you catching a ball or driving a car – though you are still allowed to drive, he never has. He’d be legal to drive, but he doesn’t.”

Gordon’s older brother John has said that Brown feared, as he lay in total darkness for weeks at a time, that he was going blind. “It made him more determined.”

Dr Chawla is less sure. “Anyone who spent such a long time in hospital without success would be terrified of what was going to happen to the other eye. But I don’t think it has shaped his character as some have suggested. That’s cod psychology. He’s a confident man full of bonhomie. He’s a brave guy who just got on with his life.”


The poster on the university campus sported the familiar silhouette of Che Guevara in his red-starred beret. The word “Revolucion!” was plastered across it. Yet closer inspection revealed it to be an advert for the Freshers’ Week welcoming party of the Spanish and Latino Society. “Salsa instructor,” it said. “Come early for free tapas”. Whatever happened to student revolutionaries?

One of them, of course, has just become Prime Minister. “Red Gordon”, as he was known in the early days – in addition to graduating with a first in history and a doctorate on “The Labour Party and Political Change in Scotland 1918-29” – got himself elected as rector aged just 24 and did battle with the Tory vice-chancellor over university investments in South Africa.

They were heady times. Brown took the university to court and won. He even managed to enlist the support of the university’s chancellor, the Duke of Edinburgh. The university authorities were horrified, especially when they found out that Brown’s girlfriend was Princess Margarita, the eldest daughter of the King of Romania, who happened to be the chancellor’s god-daughter.

Things are a little less dramatic nowadays, says Josh MacAlister, the current president of the student union at Edinburgh. (They changed the rules to stop students standing for the post of rector shortly after Brown stepped down from the job). “We have just got the university to revoke Robert Mugabe’s honorary degree, which is almost a flashback to Gordon Brown’s campaign on university investment in apartheid.”.

But the “golden age” of demos, sit-ins and public meetings is over. “ The student movement is different nowadays,” said MacAlister. “In Brown’s day, the relationship was quite confrontational; today it’s quite productive. We’ll tell them when we think they are wrong but we share a lot of priorities – on widening access to university, on teaching standards, on contact time and we can have quite a lot of impact on all that.”

Students in Edinburgh now interface not through political gatherings but through the internet, he said. “There were 5,000 students then and 25,000 now. More than 80 per cent of Edinburgh students have their own page on Facebook. That’s the way we communicate with them.”

And the Seventies debates between different brands of Marxism have gone. “People are more focused on outcomes rather than bickering about what the question is,” MacAlister said. “Part of Thatcher’s legacy is a more individualistic society; that’s true in student politics too. The big issue is student accommodation. Edinburgh is an expensive city and we’re campaigning to get the city council to introduce regulations to control dodgy landlords who don’t do repairs or provide the services they should. A lot of people are quietly proud that the next PM comes from here,” said MacAlister. “Overall, Gordon Brown’s record over the past 10 years has been pretty good. Britain is a much better place now than it was then. But higher education has been reflective of Labour’s strengths and weaknesses. They have got more people into university but top-up fees are a very crude way of paying for that.

“Our fear is he may be planning to raise the cap on top-up fees to £6,000 or even £10,000 a year. The timing on that will coincide with the 2009-10 general election. So he may be in for a real fight.”


Gordon Brown’s first foray into electoral politics was in the pivotal general election of 1979. That was when the Labour government of James Callaghan was defeated by Margaret Thatcher in what was to prove the first of four consecutive general election victories for the Tories.

Brown stood in Edinburgh South constituency, but lost to a Conservative. His opponent was Michael Ancram who went on to become deputy leader of the Tories. “There were 11,000 students in the constituency and, as student rector, he expected to win. He was shocked when he didn’t. I don’t recall Gordon being particularly gracious,” recalled the Tory grandee in his office in Portcullis House last week where the window offered an unusual and revealing view of the inner sanctums of the palace of Westminster with its spindly spires and hidden flying buttresses.

“As student rector, he set up a commission on the future of Edinburgh University and invited me to be on it. It was in the days before the expression ‘control freak’ had been invented but he was a pretty determined figure. When the campaign began, we did quite a lot of public debates. He was perfectly civil. There were no left-wing rants. His technique was to analyse Margaret Thatcher’s programme and forensically take it to pieces.

“Traditionally, all Scots MPs spoke at the Scottish Grand Committee but when he was finally elected to Parliament in 1983, Gordon avoided it. He had arrived four years later than he had intended and didn’t have time for that. He had his eye on UK politics.”

So much so that when he was offered his first frontbench post as shadow Scottish Secretary he turned it down, waiting until he was offered the job of spokesman on Trade and Industry in 1985. Within another two years, he was made shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury; there, when the shadow Chancellor, John Smith, took three months off to convalesce from his first heart attack in 1988, he made his mark with some brilliant Tory-baiting rhetoric that led the Conservative Chancellor, and later Prime Minster, John Major, to criticise Brown as “a specialist in personal abuse.”

When John Smith became Labour leader, Brown was the natural to become shadow Chancellor. But he did more than follow his predecessor’s traditional Labour tax-and-spend policies. He worked hard to establish an image of fiscal rectitude – committing Labour to following the Conservatives’ spending plans for the first two years after taking power – and persuading Middle England that Labour could be trusted to run the economy. Once elected, he oversaw the longest period of sustained growth in UK economic history

“Politics is as much about luck as anything else and he got an economy on the up,” said Ancram. “But to be fair he kept it on the up. Throughout his career he’s been very focused, very ambitious. He positioned himself always to be in the right place at the right time.”


Laura Spence was a pupil at a state comprehensive school in Whitley Bay. She was, in 1999, the only pupil of the school’s 100 sixth formers to apply for a place at Oxford. Although she had 10 A* results in her GCSEs and, the press reported, five straight As in her A-levels she had been turned down by Magdalen where she had applied to read medicine after snobby interviewers decided she “did not show potential”.

Gordon Brown may have made the necessary fiscal compromises to appease Middle England but he had never entirely shaken off the mantle of the class warrior. He lambasted the college in an address to trade unionists. “He concluded that the interviewing system was like a gentleman’s club, biased against women, ethnic minorities and northerners,” Professor Anthony Smith, who was president of Magdalen at the time, now recalls. The trouble was Brown had not bothered to check the facts before he launched a broadside in a speech to a trade union conference.

“We had 22 applicants for five places to read medicine,” said Professor Smith. “All 22 had 10 A*s in their GCSEs. And Laura Spence, contrary to press reports, had not received her A-level results yet. Moreover, our records showed she had achieved good marks in her interview but had been poor in her written exam and the structured discussion. And of the five candidates who were successful candidates – three were women, three from ethnic minorities, two came from comprehensives, one came from Newcastle.”

Almost every detail in Brown’s attack was wrong. “For about a day and a half it looked bad and then the story began to turn around against Brown,” said Professor Smith, reflecting on the incident eight years later. “He should have said something to exculpate himself.” But he refused to own up to his mistake.

“It was the first blemish on the Brown image,” said Professor Smith, “and revealed a number of characteristics. It indicated several layers of carelessness. It demonstrated an unwillingness to admit he’s made a mistake. And its showed there’s a stiffness, an unbendingness, about the man, which is sad since he has done so much good in other areas – he is the only politician, other than Nye Bevan, to have moved me to tears. His Gilbert Murray lecture for Oxfam was so well-informed, full of novel ideas and such passion

“The truth is that the whole class system is the root of the problem and you can’t expect a university admissions tutor to change that. He doesn’t have the levers of power. In any case, the Government’s campaign to get 50 per cent of the population into universities needed a lot more thought. One wonders whether a lot of people who go to university now would do better if they were in out-and-out training in sports management or tourism or whatever.” Not, one imagines, the kind of remarks to endear Gordon Brown any more greatly to the Oxbridge way of thinking.


So how well has Gordon Brown done as Chancellor? On the face of it, things look pretty good. He promised an end to boom-and-bust and has presided over the longest period of sustained growth in UK economic history. He pledged to bring down unemployment and has a record number of people in work.

And yet, as a nation, we are fairly economically illiterate. Most of us have no real idea of whether trouble is being stored up for the future. After unsuccessful forays to the Bank of England and the Treasury, where senior people would only talk off-the-record, I travelled to the other side of Parliament Square to try to find out.

Martin Weale is the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. In the days before the Bank of England gained its independence, Mr Weale was one of the Treasury’s “wise men” responsible for setting interest rates. He has also been an adviser to Britain’s central bank. How had Gordon really done? “In terms of economic management, you can’t say anything other than he’s done a good job. The circumstances have been kind – the world economy has been fairly stable – but the British economy has a history of being more accident-prone than many and he’s avoided that. He has inflation under control, the economy saving a lot and he has created space for a consumer boom.”

In recent years, he has bent if not broken his self-imposed golden rule that the Government will borrow only to invest and not to fund current spending. “But – since we have had a steady growth rate, no recession, low inflation and unemployment kept down – his neglect of his golden rule,” said Dr Weale, “did not constitute a substantial blow to his standing.”

But what has, belatedly, registered with the public is his taxing of pensions which, some years on, has provoked significant resentment. “Broonie should be arraigned for grand larceny,” said a pensioner from Aberdeen in the Glasgow Herald’s chatroom. “I have paid into my pension fund for 37 years and had planned to retire at 60 with a large lump sum and a pension of £20k per annum. Thanks to Broonie, I will now have to retire when I’m 72 to enjoy the same pension benefits”.

But Dr Weale is sanguine on that one. “If people want public spending, there have to be taxes and pensions income is as fair game as any other income. The real problem is that as a nation we just haven’t saved enough – and there is no sign that Gordon Brown has given any thought to that at all. Pensions will be a far bigger problem in 10 years but he probably won’t still be Prime Minister then.”

Meanwhile, there have been flurries over the euro (which Brown once favoured but then changed his mind), on the sale of the Treasury’s gold, (which critics say he flogged off too cheaply) and on the “buy now-pay later” public finance initiatives (which Martin Weale believes to be “on balance, a bad thing”). But none of those seemed to inflict any lasting damage on Brown’s good name. What did most harm to Gordon Brown’s reputation was the revelations about how he ran the Treasury.

“I know from my own time inside the Treasury,” said Weale,” that Treasury grade 5 assistant secretaries talked to far more senior civil servants in other ministries in ways which many people found downright offensive.”

The Treasury has always had a finger in every pie but Brown has taken its control over other ministries to new levels – dismissing not just the views of their senior civil servants but those of government ministers too.

The accusation by Lord Turnbull, Permanent Secretary at the Treasury from 1988 to 2002, that he ran the Treasury with “Stalinist ruthlessness” treating cabinet colleagues with “more or less complete contempt” hit home. It has coloured the nation’s view of the premiership to come.


Gordon had taken off his tie. But this was not some David Cameron-style “Ordinary Joe” sartorial pose. This was not about cool. It was about heat. This was Gordon Brown’s tour of Africa.

It was a defining moment. He had thought the awkward stumbling photographer-encumbered visits to the schools and clinics of Tanzania and Mozambique were over. He had been back in his natural element, in a meeting of African finance ministers in an hotel in Cape Town. But then, Brown heard about the fire. A rapid blaze had swept through one of the townships a few minutes from the conference hotel. Some 12,000 people had been made homeless. It would seem callous not to visit.

On the way, he was briefed by a white aid worker. He would be meeting a local community worker. She was an amazing woman. She had already organised for the homeless to be taken into the homes of others in Langa township. She had a family living in her own tiny two room home. She made her living by frying sheep’s intestines in the street and selling them to passers-by as snacks. No shortage of things to talk to her about then, everyone supposed. But when Gordon met her, amid the charred mattresses and scorched furniture of the wooden town his opening line was a corker. “Tell me,” he asked the far-from-bewildered woman, “do you find it hard to get micro-credit?”

There in, a single vignette, is it all. The unmistakable gut-wrenching compassion for the world’s poorest which has been with Brown since African missionaries visited his father’s church in Kirkcaldy when he was a boy. His clumsy inability to do the touchy-feely public empathy which came naturally to Tony Blair. And the cut to the financial issue at the core of her poverty, with an attempt to find a solution to the woman’s problems.

Gordon Brown was one of the members of Blair’s Commission for Africa. His was one of the key intellects behind the analysis of its final report, which became the blueprint for the big promises of Gleneagles at the G8 summit that followed. Intriguingly of its aspirations on trade, aid and debt the only component which was fully delivered was the part for which Brown was responsible – the debt deal he pushed through at the G7 finance ministers meeting some months before Gleneagles. Some £38bn of that debt relief has already been put in place.

At the Catholic Church’s aid agency Cafod, its director Chris Bain, two years on, seemed unsurprised. “There’s a genuineness and an inbuilt compassion about him,” said Mr Bain, at whose invitation Gordon Brown gave his definitive address on Africa and its problems in the Pope Paul VI lecture in 2004. “He’s a long-term strategic thinker but more than that he wants to come up with the means to achieve what his vision demands. He’s very focused on delivery and he tries to be creative”.

It was Brown who came up with the idea of a spend now-pay later International Finance Fund (IFF) to finance Gleneagles. He dreamt up a massive vaccination bond scheme, and persuaded the Pope to buy the first one, ensuring massive headlines around the world. He invented the Advance Market Mechanism to guarantee to drug companies that the G8 will buy products they develop to treat African diseases which researchers would otherwise neglect knowing the poor could not afford to buy them.

“It’s unusual for a politician to think in that degree of detail,” says Mr Bain. “Brown sees opportunities, shapes them and goes for them. But behind it all is a real passion.”

None of which will surprise those who knew that, as a schoolboy, Brown and his brother produced what they called “Scotland’s only newspaper sold in aid of African refugees” on a rackety old duplicating machine in the manse. At the age of 82, their father was still knocking on doors to raise money for Christian Aid.

When Gordon later became Chancellor, he was inundated by a flood of pre-printed postcards signed by Jubilee 2000 supporters. Officials brought pile after pile in until he said: “I’ve got the message. I don’t actually need to see any more.”

“You’d better see this one,” the civil servant said. “It’s from your mother”.


“The party I lead must have more than a set of policies – we must have a soul,” Gordon Brown told his coronation conference in Manchester on Sunday. He used similar language the year before at the Labour Party conference when he announced: “I came into politics out of faith. Faith in people and their potential.”

Just how religious a prime minister will Gordon Brown be? Unlike Tony Blair – who converted to Christianity at university and may not have finished his conversions yet – Brown was a Christian from the cradle. It is only recently that he has made any public acknowledgement of his religious background. And he comes from a very different style of Christianity.

Commentators routinely speak of it as Presbyterian or Calvinist, which fits nicely with their stereotypes about the miserable Scot. And indeed there are about Gordon Brown values associated with that tradition. At last year’s Labour conference, he spoke of “duty, responsibility and respect for others… honesty and hard work… and that the things that mattered had to be worked for”.

But Dr Doug Gay, a Church of Scotland minister who lectures in the Divinty Department at Glasgow University has just done a study of Gordon Brown’s public pronouncements on religion, and come to a rather different conclusion. “There is almost nothing from the Calvinist tradition about Brown’s public persona,” Dr Gay says. “He relies almost entirely on the vocabulary of the Scottish Enlightenment. He speaks of churches only as important social actors in a secular society. He has privatised his faith and will be a much more secular figure than Blair was.”

Many will be pleased to hear that, some will not. Shamim Miah was in the middle of organising a trip to Srebrenica and Auschwitz when I met him. He was taking a group of Christian and Muslim youths from his home town of Oldham, as part of an interfaith study project on genocide which will also be looking at Rwanda and Darfur. He was critical of the limited nature of one of Brown’s preoccupations – defining Britishness.

“Gordon Brown defines Britishness in terms of its values rather than its history or institutions,” he said. “That’s good because the usual collection of memories of the past is quite selective. And it omits to see slavery, colonialism and empire from then point of view of those who suffered.”

But there is more to identity than values he insists. “Driving round Oldham during the World Cup, it astonished me how many flags of St George were hanging from the windows of families of Pakistani and Bengali extraction. We need a far richer debate than one on shared values.” And it needs to be handled with more sensitivity than Gordon Brown’s lowest-common-denominator approach.

“Politicians think they are debating Britishness as a counterweight to Iraq. They want to make Muslims feel more included. But to young Muslims it feels just another kind of attack. I went to give a talk to Muslim kids recently and told them they should be proud of where we live and contribute to wider society. But I was given a grilling because the government had just told Muslims they must inform on extremists in their community. If the debate on Britishness is happening in an atmosphere of hostility it’s not going to go well.

“The debate among young Muslims is much more nuanced. Yes it’s about foreign policy but it’s also about the role of imams, of women, of the marginalisation of young people in the Muslim community. It’s complicated by their parents identities being defined by the mother country as it was in a time gone by and to which no one can return. We are offered two models – integration or assimilation – as bipolar opposites. But there can be shades of brown.”

The new Prime Minister needs to widen his idea of what Britishness beyond the mere business of imposing a common set of values. “We cannot allow the state to define what’s right and what isn’t. Dissent, after all, is a very British thing.”


There is something else about Gordon Brown. Back in Scotland, John Haldane, professor of philosophy at Britain’s most ancient university, St Andrews, and a leading commentator on contemporary Scottish politics, has been musing on what sits in the newly-crowned Prime Minister’s in-tray.

“Brown’s tragedy,” said Profesor Haldane, “is that the long-awaited ascent to office comes at a time when a long series of deep problems have surfaced – Iraq, the nature of the relationship with the US, the EU constitution, the West Lothian question, the economy developing problems with rising interest rates and the risk of a crash in house prices, the value of government bonds dropping, a looming pensions crisis, new pressures on the Union in both Scotland and Wales, the House of Lords reform unresolved.”

He alighted upon the website of the gay journal The Pink Paper. It noted that “conveniently” Mr Brown has failed to vote on 14 separate occasions when issues relating to gay equality were voted on. So he looked around at other issues and found Brown had voted in only 19 per cent of the votes in the current parliament – well below average among MPs – with the figure even lower in the parliament before.

Perhaps, said Profesor Haldane, there is something in the quip by the former Treasury mandarin Lord Turnbull, who said that Gordon Brown had about him a “Macavity quality” and that “he is not there when there is dirty work to be done”.

At the heart of the public figure is a gaping paradox. For a man who has spent his life on display – as the son of a minister, a student leader, an ambitious politician and, for a whole decade, our Chancellor – there are whole areas of his personality, views and inclinations to policy which remain an enigma.

No more. From today, he no longer has the great white walls of the Treasury to hide behind. We are about to discover the rest.


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