Gordon The Great
Why does Gordon Brown not get the appreciation he deserves?
Image Courtesy of Remy Steinegger, Flickr
by Mure Grant
December of 2018 brought the re-emergence of Gordon Brown back into the political domain. In a Guardian interview, the last Labour leader to inhabit No.10 reconciled his differences with Jeremy Corbyn over something both men have spent their entire political lives attempting to eradicate - child poverty. In that same interview, Brown stated: “It makes me angry. I’m seeing child poverty I didn’t think I would ever see again in my lifetime”. A decade after the financial crisis of 2008 - where Brown’s government helped broker a $1 trillion stimulus to avoid the complete disintegration of the world economy - this one-time maverick of British politics seems all but ostracized by the Labour party and its supporters. The general classification of Brown as a failed centre-left progressive politician is one which should be treated with caution.
1994 was the year that Gordon Brown became elevated to a household name. After the death of John Smith, a bright-eyed Anthony Blair grasped the leadership and appointed his most formidable colleague as shadow chancellor.
Brown would go on to become the UK’s longest continuously serving Chancellor of the Exchequer, making the Treasury his own.
The Fife MP held this position during the longest ever period of economic growth, which subsequently allowed Brown to massively increase the amount of money, both in real terms and as a share of national income, spent on benefits and tax credits.
Such increases were specifically aimed to tackle the epidemic of child poverty, which had increased exponentially under the previous Thatcher and Major administrations of the 1980s and 90s. Brown’s efforts at the Treasury saw 900,000 children being lifted out of poverty during Labour’s thirteen years of executive power. The chancellor’s policy on the euro – where he famously affirmed that eurozone membership would only be viable once his five economic tests were met - was one which was seen by Blairites as a stitch up to grasp the prime ministership. In fact, it was an advantageous decision for Britain’s economy. Evidence of this can be drawn from the collapse of the Greek and Irish economies which required excruciatingly high bail out resources - mainly from Merkel’s Germany.
Let’s also not disregard Brown’s efforts to save the union. The Gruffalo-like political beast was prodded with a stick by the Better Together campaign to go out and halt the train of SNP momentum back in 2014. Travelling across his native Scotland (Brown was born in Kirkcaldy and attended the University of Edinburgh) the former First Lord of the Treasury accumulated enough support from the Scottish population to preserve the union of Great Britain. Indeed, the former Labour party leader was so impressive on the campaign trail that it was suggested by the media that Brown could easily evict the green seats in Westminster before the 2015 General Election as well as pick up the position of Labour’s leader north of the border.
Whilst Brown had a volcanic temper and a bitterness towards Tony Blair which paralysed New Labour from reaching the zenith of its political potential, history books will be kind to the now old man.
Will the textbooks view him as his party’s longest-serving and most prosperous chancellor who was a vital player in the success of the government?
Or as the man who was the most effective politician since David Lloyd George in diminishing child poverty? Either way, Mr Brown may not be the man who ‘saved the world’, as he accidentally remarked at the dispatch box, but he certainly was a victorious social and economic innovator. Labour should be proud.