Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Profile: Gordon Brown

In recent interviews Prime Minister Gordon Brown has attempted to shed his awkward public image, describing himself as an "open book".

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown has been Labour leader since Tony Blair stepped down in 2007

It is quite a claim for a man who during his record-breaking 10 years as chancellor was often portrayed as a secretive figure, only emerging from the Treasury twice a year to deliver densely-worded financial statements to the House of Commons.

He has also jealously guarded his private life, recently confessing that he did not buy wife Sarah an engagement ring in case it got into the newspapers. He also seeks to keep his young sons' pictures out of the media.

In truth, Mr Brown, 59, has always seemed uncomfortable with the demands of the modern media, lacking the easy charm of his predecessor Tony Blair.

Attempts to turn this into a strength rather than weakness have seen him called a "serious man for serious times" and "Not flash, just Gordon".

But with a general election approaching, he has been encouraged to "open up" to the cameras. In one recent interview, he choked back tears as he spoke of the death of his first child, Jennifer Jane.

Mr Brown was brought up in Kirkcaldy, a small coastal town north of Edinburgh in Scotland.

National recognition

The second son of Rev Dr John Ebenezer Brown, a Church of Scotland minister, James Gordon Brown was a shy, studious, sports mad youngster.

He was separated from the rest of his school year as part of a controversial experiment in fast-tracking bright pupils from state schools through the education system.

It was an experience he resented but it meant that by the age of 16 he had joined his older brother John at Edinburgh University to study history, becoming the youngest undergraduate there since the war.

He quickly made a name for himself as a thorn in the side of the authorities, achieving national recognition in Scotland after being elected head of the university's governing body - the first time a student had held the post.

But a rugby accident, which robbed him of the sight in one eye, made him realise how easily it could all be snatched away.

He became a Labour MP at the second attempt in 1983, after briefly working as a lecturer and TV reporter, and began forging an alliance with fellow MP Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, then a backroom figure, who shared his belief that the party had to modernise and broaden its appeal if it was ever going to regain power.

When Labour leader John Smith died unexpectedly in 1994, most assumed that Mr Brown, by then shadow chancellor, would be his successor.

Turning point

But after Mandelson, to that point his most enthusiastic supporter, said Mr Blair was the best bet to take Labour back to power Brown agreed to give Blair a clear run at the leadership, on the understanding that power would be handed over to him at some point in the future.

After Labour's 1997 landslide victory, Mr Brown became the most powerful chancellor in modern times.

But he never stopped coveting the top job and seemed to spend much of the next 10 years pushing Mr Blair to make good on their deal. When Mr Blair finally stood down in 2007, after winning three Labour election victories, Mr Brown was crowned party leader, and prime minister, without a contest.

Mr Brown sought to differentiate himself from the era of "spin" as he stressed his "moral compass" and principled politics. It seemed to work as his first few months saw him and his party's poll ratings soar as he tackled terrorism, floods and the collapse of Northern Rock.

He considered cementing his position with a snap general election in autumn 2007 but changed his mind at the last minute, after a slight Tory poll bounce, saying he wanted more time to "set out his vision". It proved a pivotal moment.

Opponents said he had "bottled" it and said it proved tactics rather than principle guided his politics. With his reputation dented and the British economy in crisis, Labour's poll ratings crashed and over the following two years Mr Brown was hit by ministerial resignations and attempts to oust him.

He found himself relying on the political skills of Lord Mandelson, now forgiven for his earlier perceived betrayals and persuaded back from Brussels, to maintain his grip on power.

Mr Brown, whose party has cut the Conservative poll lead in the run up to the election campaign, will be hoping that voters agree with his view that his experience of handling the economic crisis makes him the best man to lead the country through the recovery.



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