Gordon Brown: end of a dream for flawed British premier

10th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Gordon Brown dreamed of being British prime minister for decades but only managed to keep the job for three years, fatally flawed by an awkward personal style which made him unpopular with many voters.

While Brown is admired globally for his leadership during the credit crunch and commitment to ending third world poverty, he faced an often hostile public at home, most recently when he called a voter "bigoted" during the election.

The dour Scot's unpopularity led to several attempted coups from within his Labour party while he was in power, the most serious of which prompted him to confess in 2009 he "could walk away from all of this tomorrow".

On Monday he announced he plans to stand down as Labour leader by before the party's annual conference in September, effectively announcing his resignation in advance.

Now that Brown is walking away -- in a bid to boost Labour's chances of keeping power through a deal with the Lib Dems -- he has hinted he could become a professor or do charity work, as well as spending more time with wife Sarah, who was often at his side on the campaign trail, and their two young sons.

Whatever happens, he is likely to welcome a break from the highly critical gaze of the British media, where many commentators have recently started comparing him to William Shakespeare's tragic, mad King Lear.

Brown was born in 1951, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, and grew up in Kirkcaldy, a manufacturing town north of Edinburgh which is now in his parliamentary constituency. He says his "moral compass" comes from his father.

A bright child, he was fast-tracked through school and went to Edinburgh University aged 16, where he gained a degree and a doctorate in history.

In an early sign of his political ambition, he was elected as top student leader, effectively launching his Labour party career.

This was despite a rugby accident that left him blind in one eye and seriously limited his vision in the other.

After working as a journalist and lecturer, Brown was elected to parliament in 1983 and became friends with Tony Blair, another new lawmaker and rising star.

Brown had always been seen as the more likely of the two to be a future leader, but when then Labour chief John Smith died suddenly in 1994 it was Blair who replaced him.

Brown and Blair reportedly agreed that this should happen, but that Blair would hand over to his close ally within a few years to allow him to realise his ambition.

When Blair won the general election in 1997, he made Brown finance minister and gave his "Iron Chancellor" unprecedented power over domestic policy.

But as Blair remained prime minister for longer and longer with no sign he would step aside, relations between the two came under intense strain.

Blair eventually resigned in 2007 following pressure from Brown supporters and fierce public anger over the Iraq war. Brown took over from him unopposed.

After a brief honeymoon period, Brown's popularity dived when he pulled back from calling an expected general election in October that year.

The following month, an opposition lawmaker summed up his fall from grace by saying he had become like Mr. Bean -- a blundering, slapstick TV comedy character.

The credit crunch in late 2008 seemed to provide a much-needed focus for his premiership.

Although Brown's efforts were praised and imitated abroad, Britain suffered a record recession and was the last major world economy to return to growth.

Labour's popularity briefly revived due to the recovery but this petered out during the election campaign as support for the Liberal Democrats and their telegenic young leader Nick Clegg surged.

Labour came second in the election, making Brown one of the shortest-serving premiers in modern times and meaning he had never won a general election as Labour party leader. Blair, by contrast, won three.

A man of Brown's ambition -- even one as emotionally reticent as he is -- will surely be stung by such rejection.

© 2010 AFP

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