Gordon Brown

Labour Party

Image credit: Official Portrait of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, unknown photographer, circa 2008. UK National Archives/Crown Copyright. Open Government License v3.0

Gordon Brown

I will be strong in purpose, steadfast in will, resolute in action, in the service of what matters to the British people, meeting the concerns and aspirations of our whole country.

Labour Party

June 2007 - May 2010

27 Jun 2007 - 11 May 2010

Official Portrait of Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Image credit: Official Portrait of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, unknown photographer, circa 2008. UK National Archives/Crown Copyright. Open Government License v3.0

Key Facts

Tenure dates

27 Jun 2007 - 11 May 2010

Length of tenure

2 years, 318 days


Labour Party


Sarah Macaulay


20 Feb 1951

Birth place

Giffnock, Scotland

About Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown is the most recent Labour Prime Minister. He hoped to lead a more sober and consequential government than that of Blair, but after several missteps, his ministry was unable to regain the political initiative. His greatest achievement was his response to the financial crisis in 2008, when he introduced rescue packages for banks, preventing a collapse of the sector.

Gordon Brown was born in Renfrewshire in Scotland and was the son of a Church of Scotland minister. When he was three, the family moved to Kirkcaldy in Fife, the constituency that he would later represent as an MP from 2005. He was educated at Kirkcaldy schools and was accepted into the University of Edinburgh at age 16.

However, shortly afterwards, he was injured during a rugby match, which left him blind in his left eye. His eyesight in his right eye was only saved by surgery.

After this, Brown graduated from Edinburgh with a history degree in 1972 and went on to earn a doctorate in history. He was also elected to serve as Rector of the University of Edinburgh.

In 1983, Brown was elected to the House of Commons as MP for Dunfermline East. He shared an office with Tony Blair. It soon became clear that Brown was a rising star and he frequently represented Labour on television. In 1987, Brown entered the Shadow Cabinet.

After Labour’s defeat in 1992, Brown considered running for the leadership, but chose not to. When Labour leader John Smith suddenly died in 1994, Brown once again considered running, but decided to support Tony Blair’s candidacy. What exactly Blair and Brown agreed has been disputed ever since.

With Labour’s landslide victory in 1997, Brown became Chancellor. He became the longest serving Chancellor in modern British history. He quickly enacted Labour’s election manifesto policy of allowing the Bank of England to determine interest rates. He also, initially, stuck to Tory spending plans. Though, as his confidence grew, he increased public spending.

Despite Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for the European Single Currency (Euro), Brown announced ‘Five Economic Tests’ that the new currency must meet before Britain adopted it. Ultimately, these were never met, with Brown ruling out Euro membership in 1997, 2003, and then finally when he became Prime Minister in 2007.

Brown thought that Blair would step down during a second term. But, in fact, Blair would go on to another election win in 2005, serving for a full decade as Prime Minister. Relations between Blair and Brown were fractious. Finally, in September 2006, Blair announced that he would depart from the premiership within a year.

Blair nicknamed Brown ‘The Big Clunking Fist’, and the description would be used by journalists throughout Brown’s premiership. It contrasted Brown’s style – indelicate, businesslike, and stubborn – to that of that of the more charismatic and politically flexible Blair.

When Brown became Prime Minister, he was initially blessed with good fortune. He seemed a breath of fresh air after Blair’s long premiership and he considered calling an election. However, he decided not to do so, but in failing to dampen media speculation gave the impression of indecisiveness. His popularity never recovered.

From 2008, Brown’s premiership was shaped by the response to the Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession. He played a key role in the bank rescue packages of that year and helped to stabilise the financial system.

The parliamentary expenses scandal of May 2009 damaged trust in politics widely and Brown’s response was slow. The recession that followed the financial crisis damaged the lives of ordinary people, and the government’s popularity continued to fall. Several attempts were made by Labour politicians to replace Brown, though none gathered much support.

In the May 2010 election, Brown’s Labour party lost its majority, and though he tried to organise an arrangement with the Lib Dems, they chose the Conservatives, who had won the most seats. Brown resigned hours after the Lib Dem decision became clear.

Key Events


After Blair’s decade in power, Brown promised a more sober and down-to-earth tone of government. Gone were the rhetorical flourishes, with Brown promising that ‘I will try my utmost’ on the steps of Number 10.

Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivers a speech
Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivers a speech at the Inaugural “Xin” Philanthropy Conference in Hangzhou city, east China’s Zhejiang province, 9 July 2016. — Photo by ChinaImages/Depositphotos.com

Brown’s premiership started well. He rescinded some of Blair’s more unpopular policies and proposed moving powers from the premiership to the House of Commons (like the power to declare war). He appointed Jacqui Smith as the first female Home Secretary. He responded well to a series of major incidents, including flooding and an attempted terrorist attack on Glasgow airport. By the late summer, he had a lead in the opinion polls.

Over September and October, there was speculation that Brown would call a snap general election to win a personal mandate. Media speculation intensified. However, on 6 October, he finally announced that there would be no early general election. Having done little to prevent the expectation that an election would be called, Brown’s decision to change course damaged his authority. His popularity declined and he would never recover a lead in the opinion polls.

In July 2008, Brown passed legislation to extend pre-trial detention for terror suspects, though the controversy around the measures would see them only narrowly pass the Commons and they were defeated in the Lords.

In late 2007, the bank Northern Rock asked for support from the Bank of England as a consequence of its exposure to international capital markets. There was a run on the bank as panicked customers withdrew their money, even though the bank’s assets were covered. In February 2008, the bank was nationalised by the government.

Northern Rock was a harbinger of the 2008 financial crisis. In late 2008, as a consequence of the bursting of the US housing bubble, markets fell as securities were revealed to be valueless. Lehman Brothers, a US investment banking firm, declared bankruptcy on 15 September, the largest filing in American history. Markets plummeted.

The British banking sector was seriously impacted by the trouble in the US. By early October, Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS were in serious trouble. Officials feared contagion, with the collapse of these banks causing a chain reaction that would bring down the entire sector. Over the course of an exhausting weekend, Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling put together a rescue package and five point plan to prevent disaster. In order to compel the bankers to sign up to the government’s terms, Darling told them that they must assent by midnight or their banks would open on Monday morning and they’d simply have to accept the consequences. They accepted. At 5am on Monday morning, hours before markets opened, an official woke Brown, and he approved the deal.

As a consequence, the government took stakes in HBOS, Lloyds TSB, and RBS, in return for £37 billion in capital. Ultimately, over 2007-2009, the British government spent £137 billion on bank rescue packages, preventing a sector-wide collapse. However, a heavy recession began.

In April 2009, Brown hosted the G20 summit, using it as an opportunity to engage international leaders on a global response to the crisis.

By 2009, tensions in the government emerged between Brown, who favoured spending to stimulate the economy, and Darling, who believed that budget cuts were necessary.

With Brown trailing in the opinion polls, Labour performed poorly in local elections in 2008 and was badly defeated in the 2009 European elections. As a result, Brown’s command of the Labour Party started to seem precarious, and there were several plots to replace him, though none succeeded.

In foreign policy, Brown remained close to the US, though his relationship with US President Bush was notably colder than with Blair.

In 2007, Brown signed the Lisbon Treaty, and it was ratified by Parliament the following year. Though Labour had promised a referendum on the 2005 European Constitution, Brown believed that Lisbon was sufficiently different, and therefore did not require a referendum.

Brown effectively ended Britain’s combat mission in Iraq in 2009 (with final withdrawal in 2011). British forces in Afghanistan were increased, echoing new US President Barack Obama’s ‘surge’ strategy. But the government was strongly criticised when casualties mounted in late 2009.

Brown was also passionate about the dangers of climate change. He played a key role in negotiating the Copenhagen Accord and his government passed the Climate Change Act in 2008.

In the 2010 election, Labour lost 91 seats, but Brown was able to prevent the Tories winning. Over the days that followed, he briefly tried to construct a coalition agreement with the Lib Dems, even pledging to step down by the end of the year, if his leadership was the issue that prevented a government’s formation. Ultimately, the Lib Dems chose a coalition with the Conservatives, and, when this became clear, Brown resigned on the evening of 12 May 2010.

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