Ten years on, Gordon Brown pens his memoirs

Gordon Brown delivers the inaugural Campbell Christie Lecture in the Scottish Parliament (Pic: TSPL)
Gordon Brown delivers the inaugural Campbell Christie Lecture in the Scottish Parliament (Pic: TSPL)

Ten years after leaving Downing Street, Gordon Brown has opened about on his life in politics.

The former Prime Minister and long-serving Chancellor has penned his memoirs, My Life, Our Times, which are published next Tuesday.

It is a highly-personal account of his life in politics.

He said: “The time has come to look back and take stock of what I was trying to do, and of what I got wrong as well as what I hope I got right.’’

Mr Brown, who served as MP for his home town of Kirkcaldy revealed his biggest regret, as well as looking back on his toughest challenges which included the banking crisis.

The book also looks back on his early days growing up in the Lang Toun, where his father was minister at St Bryce Kirk.

Mr Brown has written a number of books, but this is first account of his own life at Westminster which saw him, together with Tony Blair, create one of the most discussed political partnerships in modern political history as Labour swept to power.

It looks at making the Bank of England independent in 1997, introducing tax credits to radically cut child and pensioner poverty in 1999, refinancing the NHS with the biggest single tax rise in 2002, rejecting the Euro in 2003, achieving global debt relief for the poor in 2005; taking Britain out of Iraq and about his role in helping to keep Scotland in the UK.

And he casts a critical eye over the major players in the banking crisis – he has called for bankers to be tried under the Fraud Act, jailed and stripped of their bonuses.

That global recession also sparked his biggest regret that he could not persuade the British people that the progressive policies he pushed for, were the right and fairest way to respond.

“Through unprecedented co-operation worldwide in a plan for recovery, growth quickly returned, unemployment started to fall and people’s savings were secured.

“We won the battle - to escape recession.

‘‘But we lost the war – to build something better.

‘‘I fell short in communicating my ideas. I failed to rally the nation around the necessary fiscal stimulus and my plans for radical change.

“Taming globalisation – and redirecting it to meet the interests of working people – has been, and still is, the defining political challenge of our era. ‘‘

Mr Brown also admitted he wasn’t an internet-era leader – he didn’t enjoy the personality role that came with the job.

In a world of social media and selfies, he often looked uncomfortable.

‘‘What mattered, I thought, was how others might benefit from what I did for them as an active politician – not what I claimed to feel. But in the second decade of the 21st century, a sense of personal reserve can limit the appeal and rapport of a leader

“I was born about 40 years before the World Wide Web and arrived in Parliament 20 years before the advent of Twitter. During my time as an MP I never mastered the capacity to leave a good impression or sculpt my public image in 140 characters. Now no politician can succeed without mastering social media – and yet, in it, the prime minister becomes one among millions of voices competing to be heard.”

“Perhaps it took me too long to understand fully an essential dimension of leadership: that any idea, big or small, is of little significance until it can be communicated compellingly and in clear terms.

“I started out in politics as an idealist with a strong, perhaps naïve, conviction of what needed to change in Britain.

“Politics, I thought, was more than the art of the possible; it was about making the desirable possible.’’

For Mr Brown what he did was more important than what he said in a soundbite.

He says: “For me, being conspicuously demonstrative is uncomfortable – to the point that it has taken me years, despite the urging of friends, to turn to writing this book.

“If in my political career I was backward in coming forward, my failure was not so much a resistance to letting the public in – I never shrank from that – it was resisting the pressure to cultivate an image that made the personal constantly public. Reticence was the rule.

“Although some politicians thrust their children into the limelight – think of the unfortunate child filmed eating a beef burger to reassure the public at the height of the BSE drama – Sarah and I were determined to let our sons, John and Fraser, grow up, so far as possible, as normal children and not especially privileged. We agreed to publish only one photograph after each was born, and generally I am grateful to the newspapers for allowing them their privacy.

“Interestingly, after we left Downing Street some people wrote to me saying that they had not known I had any children until they saw the footage of our family leaving together – and the warmth they saw between us revealed something about me of which they had also been unaware.

“I fully understand that in a media-conscious age every politician has to lighten up to get a message across and I accept that, in the second decade of the 21st century, a sense of personal reserve can limit the appeal and rapport of a leader.

“I am not, I hope, remote, offhand or uncommunicative. But if I wasn’t an ideal fit for an age when the personal side of politics had come to the fore, I hope people will come to understand this was not an aloofness or detachment or, I hope, insensitivity or a lack of emotional intelligence on my part.”

“Really, to my mind, what mattered was not what I said about myself, but simply what our government could do for our country.”

*My Life, Our Times by Gordon Brown will be published by The Bodley Head on Tuesday 7th November.