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Gordon Brown

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History

Gordon Brown was the longest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer in British history, serving ten years. Brown’s role in the Blair government and the exchequer was greatly revered. However, achieving success as the nation’s Prime Minister proved a difficult challenge for him. Why was that so?

Gordon Brown Background


Gordon Brown was born on 20 February 1951 in Glasgow, Scotland. He became leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after Tony Blair resigned.Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1997 to 2007. At the time of his appointment as Prime Minister, he was the longest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer since the 1820s.

Gordon Brown Gordon Brown Portrait in 2008 StudySmarterGordon Brown, Source: Wikicommons

Gordon Brown's Party

Before becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown played a vital role in the Labour Party. Gordon Brown is considered a pioneer in the formation of the New Labour Party and the economic successes during Tony Blair’s government.

New Labour

The election of Tony Blair marked the beginning of the New Labour era. However, the push for a modernised Labour Party and what would become the New Labour Party began under many Labour leaders (Neil Kinnock, John Smith, and Tony Blair). It was led by several Labour MPs, most notably Gordon Brown.Gordon Brown was one of the key players behind the modernisation of the Labour Party. It was assumed Brown would help the Labour Party achieve new electoral success.Along with figures such as Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, Gordon Brown pushed the party to move away from concepts such as state economic management, nationalisation, unilateral nuclear disarmament, high taxes, and close ties to the unions. They wanted to usher in a new era of globalised politics and advocated market economy and supply-side economics.

Market Economy

Unrestricted competition among privately-owned enterprises determines production and prices, not the government. Government control of prices and production had often been the policy of the Labour Party until the Party began its realignment under Kinnock.

Supply-side Economics

Supply-side economics is a macroeconomic concept advocating the idea of reducing regulation, lowering taxes, and expanding free trade/market enterprise as the most effective way to achieve economic growth.

Gordon Brown and his allies transformed the Labour Party into an electable party by - a task the Labour Party struggled with for nearly two decades. As a result, Brown’s tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer was highly praised. However, for some in his Party, the departure from Labour’s traditional economic policies was too high a price to pay.

Chancellor of the Exchequer


In the 1997 general election, the Labour Party won a landslide victory, and Tony Blair became Prime Minister. Gordon Brown was then appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer and quickly took control of almost all areas of national economic policy.During the 1997 election campaign, Gordon Brown, then shadow chancellor, announced that Labour would adhere to the same spending restrictions the Conservative government had introduced. So when Gordon became Chancellor, his economic policies changed little from those of the Thatcher/Major regime.Gordon Brown embraced Thatcher’s economic and globalist policies and thus pursued a similar economic agenda. Brown remained committed to supply-side economics.

An example of Brown’s supply-side economic policies was his decision to give the Bank of England a free hand in setting interest rates. The Bank no longer had to consult the government before making changes, consistent with free-market supply-side policies and reduced government intervention.

Brown disappointed many Labour supporters and party members by refusing to abandon the strict public spending policies he had inherited from the Conservative Party.However, despite internal party criticism of his public spending cuts and increased government borrowing, Gordon Brown achieved the following:

  • By 2007, Gordon Brown had completed a record ten years as Chancellor.

  • Inflation had remained low, and employment had reached record levels.

  • Living standards remained high, and the consumer economy was booming.

Although Labour MPs and supporters criticised Brown, he implemented domestic policies to improve the welfare state and public services. By July 1998, Brown had drawn up comprehensive plans outlining a significant increase in spending on education and health.

British economic historian Peter Sinclair argued in his 2007 book ‘The Treasury and Economic Policy’:

The fact that inequality and poverty have improved somewhat in the Gordon Brown era, rather than worsening as they did under Thatcher, reflects the impact of Brown’s policies to provide greater support for low-income families.

Gordon Brown Prime Minister

During his time as Chancellor, Gordon Brown was hard to fault, but that was not the case during his time as Prime Minister.Both the opposition and his Party severely criticised Gordon Brown during his premiership and constantly asked him to resign.As Brown’s tenure took shape, he faced a global financial crisis, the loss of a majority, the terrible results of the European election, criticism of the Iraq operation, and political scandals.Gordon Brown’s popularity quickly waned, and the tide turned against him.

Historians and political commentators such as Robert Harris argue that Brown’s premiership was a casualty of his time and that he would have been an outstanding and decisive leader had he taken office earlier. The Labour Party had already been in power for a decade when Brown took office in 2007. This played an important role in shaping his tenure, as the Labour Party had been in power for an extremely long time in British politics.As a result, the Labour Party had been in power for so long that Brown’s inauguration coincided with an almost inevitable fall of the Party.Added to this were factors, such as:

  • The disasters and controversies of Iraq.
  • Global financial crisis.
  • Debt bubble.
  • The revival of the Conservative Party under David Cameron (Gordon Brown’s successor).


Others, however, argue that he favoured the precarious conditions under which he became Prime Minister, even as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Domestic Policy

Brown made various improvements to the NHS, sought to address inequality, improved environmental policy, and oversaw the devolution of powers in Northern Ireland.

NHS

Once Brown became Prime Minister, he pledged to reform the National Health Service and improve the nation’s health.Brown’s goal was to:

  • Prioritise disease prevention.

  • Treatment of chronic sickness.

  • Improve primary care services.

  • Promote physical activity and nutrition in schools.

  • Implement a food labelling system that describes the nutritional value of foods.

  • Improve access to routine health screenings.

  • Promote employee health awareness in the workplace.

The NHS has to be there when you need it

. . .

[its] not just . . . what it [NHS] can do for you but what, empowered with new advice, support and information, you can do for yourself and your family.

Equality Act


In 2010, Gordon Brown passed the Equality Act, which consolidated, updated, and supplemented previous anti-discrimination laws.This law sought to improve elements of the law:

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1970.

  • The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975.

  • The Race Relations Act of 1976.

  • The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995.

Brown hoped the act would require employers to provide equal treatment regardless of age, disability, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

Environment and Climate Change

Gordon Brown also felt responsible for promoting a green policy. Thus, Brown established policies aimed at environmental sustainability. Brown argued that ‘economic objectives and our environmental objectives now increasingly reinforce each other.’In 2008, Brown’s administration passed the world’s first Climate Change Act. The act set a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Northern Ireland

It is unlikely that Northern Ireland and peace in the Irish region will be part of Gordon Brown’s legacy, as key moments in the peace process occurred during Tony Blair’s premiership.During his tenure, he worked with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, Brian Cowen, in negotiating the transfer of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.A final agreement was reached in February 2010 and the powers transferred to the Northern Ireland government in April 2011.

Justice/Judicial Powers

The judicial power of a court or judge is the power to interpret and decide cases based on sound legal principles. The judiciary has the power to determine the legitimacy of arguments, evidence, and facts to impose a sentence or pass judgement.

What was the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, was signed on 10 April 1998. Several of the contending parties in Northern Ireland, along with Britain and Ireland, agreed on the way to govern Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement established a system of devolved government (government in which central powers are devolved to regional governments) in Northern Ireland.

Gordon Brown Cabinet

During Brown’s premiership, the Labour Party and other parties MP’s were embroiled in a series of scandals. These scandals severely damaged Gordon Brown’s reputation, especially since he had pledged to crack down on corruption and revise the Ministerial Code, which contained clear guidelines for ministers.

  1. IIn 2009, Gordon Brown faced a crisis after a critical advisor, Damian McBride, resigned, and the Conservative Party threatened legal action over explosive leaked emails. The emails were about how senior Conservatives, including David Cameron and his wife Samantha, could be targeted with smears about their private lives.

  2. Gordon Brown was accused in 2009 of misappropriating funds after paying his brother Andrew $10,000 to clean his Westminster flat.

  3. In the spring of 2009, a political scandal erupted involving the widespread misuse of expense accounts by members of Parliament, including members of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. This led to the resignation of several members of Brown’s Cabinet and a major Cabinet reshuffle.

    Sir John Mr Butterfill, the outgoing Conservative MP for Bournemouth, had to repay £17,000 in the expenses review. This event came after it emerged that he claimed the cost of building an extension to his home for his gardener and wife.

  4. Just weeks before the 2010 general election, Gordon Brown faced a new MP scandal after a number of MPs were secretly filmed claiming to accept cash payments of up to £5,000 to influence political decisions. This scandal also involved Gordon Brown’s Cabinet members and led to several resignations and a reshuffle of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet.

    Stephen Byer, a Labour MP, was caught declaring on tape that he had accepted money to influence government policy in Parliament. Byer claimed that he had played a large part in influencing the results for National Express and Tesco. This scandal was later dubbed the ‘cash for influence scandal’.

Leadership Challenge


Some MPs questioned Brown’s leadership qualities in mid-2008 when they publicly called for his resignation. Two Lancashire MPs called on Brown to resign and another questioned his chances of retaining the Labour leadership in what became known as the ‘Lancashire Plot’.In addition, several MPs called for Brown to seek a new election for the party leadership if he did not move back up in the polls by early 2009.

Loss of Majority


For three consecutive terms, Tony Blair maintained a majority in the House of Commons. However, this changed during Brown’s time in office.In the local elections on 1 May 2008, the Labour Party achieved its worst result in 40 years. With an extrapolated vote share of 24 %, Labour ended up in third place nationally. The Party lost by-election seats in Nantwich, Crewe and Henley and slipped in the polls.In addition to the defeats in the by-elections, the Labour Party lost further seats and its majority in the House of Commons. It came second to the Conservatives in the 2010 British general election.A few days later, Brown announced he would resign as Labour leader.

Gordon Brown Successor

Brown was succeeded as Prime Minister by David Cameron after the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition.

Economic Policy

In 200809, a global financial crisis and recession hit the United Kingdom. This crisis severely tested Gordon Brown’s government.Brown called for measures to stimulate aggregate demand and announced a bank rescue package worth around £500 billion and a temporary 2.5% cut in VAT.As a result, the government took a majority stake in Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland and invested large sums in several other banks, including Lloyds Banking Group.As the general election loomed, Brown tried to stimulate the economy, leading to a higher budget deficit and causing his poll ratings to drop.

Foreign Policy

Brown believed the global fight against terrorism required more than military force. Thus, under his leadership, British troops ended the occupation of Iraq.Under Brown, the United States remained a reliable ally. Despite speculation that Brown would sever close ties with the nation, particularly over Iraq, favouring a foreign policy course that benefits the United Kingdom. Asserting that he would remain close to the nation, Brown stated:

I think people have got to remember that the special relationship between a British prime minister and an American president is built on the things that we share.

. . .

I will continue to work, as Tony Blair did, very closely with the American administration.

Iraq and the War on Terror

Although Gordon Brown had largely supported the Iraq War, in June 2007, he stated he was willing to ‘learn the lessons’ of Tony Blair’s mistakes in the region. Indeed, in 2008, Brown announced the government would hold an inquiry into the war: the Chilcot Inquiry.Under Brown’s leadership, UK forces raised their flag over the city of Basra on 30 April 2009 to signal the end of their combat operations in Iraq. This marked the end of British involvement in the war in Iraq.

Iraq War and the Special Relationship

Blair revived the special relationship between Britain and the United States and forged a deep bond and friendship with George W. Bush after the 11 September attacks. Blair promised that Britain would play a key role in the ‘War on Terror’.

On 20 March 2003, US and British forces began invading Iraq without formal UN sanction and, for Blair, without the support of his government, the opposition, or the British people. They justified this invasion on the grounds that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). There were numerous protests and some members of Blair’s cabinet even resigned.

During Blair’s tenure, many questions arose about the justifications for this war. The most important question came up in July 2003, after the suicide of Dr David Kelly. Dr Kelly had worked as an expert in the Ministry of Defence and was one of the main proponents of the thesis that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. His sudden death led to a virulent cry for answers.

Blair (and Bush) found themselves on the hot seat because before Kelly took his own life, he admitted much of the evidence of Hussein’s WMDs was fabricated.

Brown and the European Union (EU)

Political commentators labelled Brown was labelled a Eurosceptic during Blair’s government. Brown was not opposed to the European Union, but he had different ideas about the nation’s participation in it.

In October 1997, Brown announced the Treasury would conduct five economic tests to determine whether the UK should adopt the European single currency.

The Labour Party promised in its 2005 manifesto to hold a referendum on the original EU Constitution. However, when Brown was Prime Minister, he backed away from that pledge. Instead, Brown reaffirmed Britain’s participation in the Union by attending the ceremonial signing of the EU Reform Treaty in Lisbon on 13 December 2007.The treaty differs significantly from the Constitution, making a referendum unnecessary in Brown’s view.In the European elections held during Brown’s premiership, the Labour polled 16% of the vote, finishing third behind the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The historically low turnout of 33% showed voter apathy. In Scotland, the turnout was only 28%.

Euro Debate

In 2002, there was another intense debate about whether the UK should abandon the Great British Pound (GBP) and replace its currency with the euro. Blair favoured abandoning the pound because he still hoped that aligning the UK with the EU would broker political alliances.However, Gordon Brown (Chancellor of the Exchequer) opposed it because of the potentially dangerous economic implications. Blair was so committed to abolishing the currency that he even suggested a referendum, believing that the UK people could be educated about the benefits of the euro, but this idea never took wind.

Gordon Brown’s legacy

  • British historians often combine and evaluate Gordon Brown’s legacy with that of Tony Blair. But Brown was equally important in his own right as both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, he steered the British economy during a period of sustained expansion.
  • As Prime Minister, he faced a general decline in support for the Labour Party among the electorate, the global financial crisis, the aftermath of the Iraq war, and several political scandals.
  • In his role as Prime Minister, however, Brown failed to remedy the ailing economy, resolve internal Party and political problems and scandals, prevent the decline of the Labour Party and its majority, or convince the nation of his competence as a leader.
  • Brown’s critics argue, however, that while he confronted some critical problems, he also failed to implement radical reforms at a time when the country needed him most.

Gordon Brown - Key Takeaways

  • Brown’s role in the Blair government and the Treasury was much revered, but achieving success as Prime Minister proved a difficult challenge.
  • Gordon Brown was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 20 February 1951. Gordon Brown became leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after Tony Blair resigned.
  • Gordon Brown became Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party in 2007 and remained so until his defeat in the 2010 general election.
  • Historians consider Gordon Brown one of the prominent people responsible for the modernisation of the Labour Party. It was assumed Brown would help Labour achieve new electoral success.
  • As Chancellor of the Exchequer:
    • By 2007, Gordon Brown had completed a record ten years as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
    • Inflation had remained low, and record numbers of people were employed.
    • Living standards remained high, and the consumer economy was booming.
  • Many historians and political commentators believe Brown’s premiership was a sacrifice of his time and that he would have been an outstanding and decisive leader had he taken office earlier.
  • Gordon Brown made various improvements to the NHS, attempted to tackle inequality, improved environmental policy, and oversaw the devolution of powers in Northern Ireland.
  • During Brown’s premiership, the Labour Party and other party MPs were embroiled in several scandals. These scandals severely damaged Gordon Brown’s reputation.In the local elections on 1 May 2008, Labour achieved its worst result in 40 years. With a predicted vote share of 24%, Labour finished third nationally.
  • In 200809, a global financial crisis and recession hit the UK. This crisis severely tested Gordon Brown’s government.Historians considered Brown a Eurosceptic. While he was not opposed to the European Union, he was not as passionate as Tony Blair about full engagement with the Union.
  • Brown believed the global fight against terrorism required more than military force. Thus, under his leadership, British troops ended the occupation of Iraq.
  • Gordon Brown’s legacy is often lumped in with that of Tony Blair. Brown’s premiership is widely criticised.

Gordon Brown

2007–2010.

As a result of the local elections on 1 May 2008, Labour scored its lowest results in 40 years. Labour finished third with a projected 24% share of the national vote. The party lost by-election seats in Nantwich, Crewe and Henley, as well as slipping in the polls. 


This led to Gordon Brown resigning as Labour leader.

Gordon Brown was Prime Minister between 2007 and 2010.

Figures from 2018 estimate Gordon Brown's net worth to be around £11 million.

Glasgow, Scotland.

Final Gordon Brown Quiz

Question

Where was Gordon Brown born?

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Answer

Glasgow, Scotland.

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Question

When was Gordon Brown Prime Minister?

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Answer

From 2007 to 2010.

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Question

How long was Gordon Brown Chancellor of the Exchequer?

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Answer

From 1997 to 2007.

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Question

Why do British historians argue Gordon Brown was a victim of his time during his premiership?

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Answer

Historians and political commentators argue that Brown’s premiership was a casualty of his time and that he would have been an outstanding and decisive leader had he taken office earlier. The Labour Party had been in power for so long that Brown’s inauguration coincided with an almost inevitable fall of the Party.

Added to this were factors, such as:

  • The disasters and controversies of Iraq.
  • Global financial crisis.
  • Debt bubble.
  • The revival of the Conservative Party under David Cameron (Gordon Brown’s successor).

Show question

Question

What role did Gordon Brown play concerning the troubles in Northern Ireland?

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Answer

Gordon Brown worked with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, Brian Cowen, in negotiating the transfer of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.

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Question

What happened to Labour’s majority?

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Answer

For three consecutive terms, Tony Blair maintained a majority in the House of Commons. However, this changed during Brown’s time in office. In the local elections on 1 May 2008, the Labour Party achieved its worst result in 40 years. With an extrapolated vote share of 24 %, Labour ended up in third place nationally. The Party lost by-election seats in Nantwich, Crewe and Henley and slipped in the polls.

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Question

What did Brown oversee with regards to Iraq?

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Answer

Under his leadership, British troops ended their occupation of Iraq. 

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Question

Why was Gordon Brown regarded as a Eurosceptic?

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Answer

While he was not opposed to the European Union, he was not as passionate as Tony Blair about full engagement with the Union.

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Question

What were some of Gordon Brown’s domestic policies?

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Answer

  • Reform/Improve the NHS services.
  • Equality Act.
  • Improve Environmental Policy.
  • Northern Ireland devolution.

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Question

What measures did Gordon Brown take to remedy the economic crisis?

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Answer

  • Brown called for measures to stimulate aggregate demand and announced a bank rescue package worth around £500 billion and a temporary 2.5% cut in VAT
  • As a result, the government took a majority stake in Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland and invested large sums in several other banks, including Lloyds Banking Group.

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