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Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Monday, 10 May 2010 18:30 UK

Profile: Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown, who has announced he will stand down as Labour leader to make way for a leadership contest, was the party's longest serving chancellor but one of its shortest-serving prime ministers.

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

As the other half of a sometimes toxic double act with Tony Blair, he has dominated the political landscape in Britain for much of the past two decades, fashioning, in New Labour, an election winning machine that was, for a time, the envy of all other parties.

He was the most powerful chancellor of the post-war period, dominating the domestic political agenda from his Treasury powerhouse for 10 years, all the while plotting for the day when he would take over the top job from his Downing Street neighbour.

Such was his dominance of the Labour Party, he became its leader in 2007 without a contest but he quickly found that the job he had coveted for so long was more difficult than he imagined and he was plunged into immediate crisis.

Always awkward with the media, his lack of presentational skill was cruelly exposed in a series of gaffes, including being recorded insulting a Labour voter while out on the campaign trail, a story which flashed round the world and, for his critics, summed up all of the character flaws that made him unsuitable for the highest office.

And when it came to the crunch, he was unable to win a general election on his own merits, although no Labour leader has ever succeeded in winning four terms for the party.

He was forced to fall on his sword in the most public way imaginable in order to give the party he loves, and which he has devoted his life to, a fighting chance of continuing in government.

His departure will come as a relief to those in the Labour Party who have tried and failed to topple him, but his determination to carry on as prime minister at least until the nation's precarious finances have been stabilised and a new government formed is a sign, friends say, of his powerful sense of duty to his country.

It also marks the final stage in one of the most remarkable political careers of modern times.

National recognition

The second son of Rev Dr John Ebenezer Brown, a Church of Scotland minister, James Gordon Brown was brought up in Kirkcaldy, a small coastal town north of Edinburgh in Scotland.

A shy, studious 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.

Gordon Brown

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.

He entered the general election campaign as the outsider and, after losing more than 90 Labour MPs in what was Labour's worst electoral performance since Michael Foot in 1983, he stayed on as prime minister while negotiations continued among the Conservatives and Lib Dems to form a government.

Four days after the electorate delivered its verdict, he announced he would carry on as prime minister to oversee talks with the Lib Dems and ensure economic stability, but only as long as it took Labour to elect a new leader, a process he said would be completed by the time of the party conference in the Autumn.

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