Britain's three party leaders, vying for power

29th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Here are short profiles of Britain's three main party leaders -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the Labour Party, Conservative chief David Cameron, and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.


Brown, reeling from a major gaffe on the eve of a final pre-election TV debate Thursday, succeeded Tony Blair as British prime minister three years ago, after a decade as his "Iron Chancellor."

As finance minister he was credited with overseeing an unprecedented boom in Britain's free-wheeling economy, but his reputation has been left in tatters at home by the global credit crunch.

Born in 1951 the son of a Church of Scotland minister, he grew up in Kirkcaldy, a manufacturing town north of Edinburgh, and credits his father with giving him a "moral compass."

A bright child, he went to Edinburgh University aged 16, succeeding in student politics despite a rugby accident which left him blind in one eye.

After working as a journalist and lecturer, Brown was elected to parliament in 1983 and became friends with fellow rising star Blair. Along with Peter Mandelson they created New Labour, storming to power in 1997.

But despite three election wins in a row, relations with Blair deteriorated, and he was widely seen as behind a coup which ousted his friend-turned-rival in June 2007.

While praised internationally for his economic leadership, Brown is shackled by poor people skills which saw him nicknamed "Mr. Bean" and fueled reports that he bullies staff.

Those criticisms were revived this week when he was overheard calling a pensioner "bigoted," and blaming a key aide for setting up a campaign trail chat with her.


David Cameron, battling to become Britain's new prime minister after next week's elections, is a slick moderniser who dragged his party into the 21st century, giving it its first shot at power in 13 years.

Since becoming leader in 2005, he has transformed the centre-right Conservatives from a "nasty" party which lost three straight elections into a dynamic alternative to Brown's incumbent Labour.

Cameron has smoothed over historic Tory splits on Europe -- a running sore since Margaret Thatcher's time -- and outflanked Brown on issues like a scandal over MPs' expenses.

Some critics accuse him of being too privileged to understand the problems of ordinary Britons, while others say he lacks substance, experience and a clear ideology.

Cameron was educated at Eton, Princes William and Harry's old school, and Oxford University, where he was a member of rowdy student dining society the Bullingdon Club alongside future London Mayor Boris Johnson.

But Cameron was determined to make the party more centrist and populist, coining the phrase "compassionate Conservatism".

His emphasis on environmentalism and fixing social problems in what he called "broken Britain" were among the clear breaks with the past.

Cameron has also used his own family to show voters the party had changed. He invited the cameras into his home to see him with his wife Samantha and three children, including his disabled son Ivan, who died last year aged six.


Clegg emerged as the star of Britain's poll race after the first of three unprecedented TV debates on April 15, boosting his party -- long the also-rans of British politics -- into second place ahead of Labour in polls.

Clegg -- named in one poll last week as the most popular British party leader since Winston Churchill, and compared by some to US President Barack Obama -- took over as Lib Dem leader in December 2007.

His fervent support of the European Union and the euro and his international background certainly single him out, but his priveleged past has also drawn comparisons with the Eton-educated Tory leader.

Clegg was born in 1967 and brought up in an affluent village northwest of London, before attending London's elite Westminster school alongside a young Helena Bonham Carter.

He worked briefly as a journalist and a political consultant before joining the European Commission where he worked for five years, and was subsequently a member of the European Parliament from 1999-2004.

His family history is exotic -- his mother was Dutch, while his wealthy banker father was half-Russian. His wife Miriam is Spanish and their children are all bilingual. Clegg himself speaks Dutch, French, German and Spanish.

Before marrying he enjoyed the single life -- in 2008 he told an interviewer that he had slept with "no more than 30" women, earning him the nickname "Nick Clegg-over".

© 2010 AFP

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