Brown leaves Downing Street into an uncertain future he says will not include politics

By Raphael G. Satter, AP
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Brown leaves Downing street into uncertain future

LONDON — In his last moments as prime minister, Gordon Brown revealed a human side to the stiff and glowering demeanor the world has become accustomed to.

In his resignation statement outside No. 10 Downing Street, Brown struggled to contain his emotions as he thanked his wife for her support and love — then left the storied residence for the last time with the two young sons he has always fought to keep out of the public eye.

It was a dignified and touching farewell to a nation that has always struggled to warm to him.

The resignation — which was formally accepted shortly afterward Tuesday by the queen at Buckingham Palace — ends a three-year tenure as prime minister marked by the country’s deepest recession since World War II, bedeviled by internecine feuding and tainted by a damaging scandal over parliamentary expenses.

Brown’s decision to step down does not necessarily mean the 59-year-old’s political career is over. He could remain in Parliament after stepping down as leader, as former Conservative Prime Minister John Major did. Or, like Blair, he could quit soon afterward. Some have suggested he might like a role at the International Monetary Fund or World Bank.

Brown, however, has himself has signaled he sees his future outside of politics, alongside his wife Sarah.

“If I couldn’t make a difference anymore, I’d go off and do something else,” he said during the election. “And Sarah and I might do charity, voluntary work.”

In a possible reference to his predecessor Tony Blair, who has amassed a fortune in sometimes controversial consulting work and speaking fees, Brown said: “I don’t want to do sort of business or anything else, I just want to do something good.”

In any case, Brown has promised not to get involved in the leadership contest which is likely to absorb Labour’s energies in the weeks ahead. Among the front-runners are Blair protege David Miliband and Brown loyalist Ed Balls.

A contest between the two would replay some of the tensions that long shadowed Brown’s relationship with Blair. According to British political lore, the two men struck a deal in 1994, agreeing Blair would be prime minister and Brown Treasury chief, but that Blair would step down at some point to give Brown the top job — although when exactly has never been conclusively determined.

In the end, Brown waited a decade for his chance to lead his country. The short visit to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday marked the denouement of a political career marked by promise, achievement and, ultimately, disappointment.

When Brown took office — by stepping in as Labour leader when Blair stepped down in 2007 — he promised to win back people’s trust in politicians. But his tenure was marred by a failing economy, a difficult and bloody war in Afghanistan and a scandal over outrageous expense claims filed by lawmakers.

He also had the misfortune to follow one of Britain’s most mesmerizing leaders.

“He’s a victim of the fact that he comes after Blair,” said Victoria Honeyman, a lecturer in British politics at the University of Leeds. “Blair is hugely charismatic. Even people who didn’t vote for Labour thought Tony Blair would be a nice guy to have a drink with. Coming after Tony Blair drives it into even sharper focus that he’s not that person.”

Brown’s sometimes awkward demeanor was fodder for satirists, and a recent run-in with an elderly voter — whom he called a “bigoted woman” — certainly wasn’t smooth. But behind closed doors, Brown was often described as warm and agreeable.

The qualities he is best known for are sheer grit and perseverance.

“He doesn’t possess charm or eloquence, but he does possess a sort of dogged resilience, an ability to plug on and not give up — in a way it enabled him to outlast all his critics,” said Bill Jones, a professor of politics at Liverpool Hope University in northern England.

“He’s not been a very popular (prime minister) with voters and with his colleagues, but most people in the end would allow some admiration for those bulldog qualities.”

Brown was born in the Scottish industrial town of Kirkcaldy on Feb. 20, 1951. His father was a Presbyterian minister, a profession Brown has said inspired his sense of moral mission.

He entered the University of Edinburgh when he was just 16, and at 21 was elected rector of the university — a largely ceremonial leadership post. Brown had suffered detached retinas in both eyes while playing rugby, and lost the sight in one eye permanently, but surgery saved vision in the other. His university years coincided with periods in hospital or recovering, but he still managed to graduate with top honors.

He was elected to Britain’s Parliament on his second attempt in 1983, rose quickly in the Labour Party and was tipped to be its next leader when party chief John Smith died of a heart attack in May 1994. But it was Blair who ran for the leadership, after the two men reputedly struck a deal at a London restaurant for Blair to become prime minister, with Brown in charge of the economy.

After Labour’s landslide election victory in May 1997 — which ended 18 years of Conservative rule — Brown placed his stamp on economic policy. One of his early moves was to hand power to set interest rates to the Bank of England. He also set a series of economic criteria for British entry into the European single currency, effectively ensuring Britain would not join the euro.

But Brown grew increasingly restive as the years passed without any sign of Blair moving on.

Blair led the party to election victories in 2001 and 2005, although his popularity, and Labour’s, were badly tarnished by the divisive war in Iraq.

By the time Brown took over in 2007, there was a feeling that the government’s best days were behind it. The Conservatives, under young and dynamic leader David Cameron, increasingly looked like a government in waiting.

After Brown took over from Blair, Labour enjoyed a brief surge in popularity, which dissipated after he dithered over calling a snap election, ultimately deciding against it.

When global financial meltdown loomed in the fall of 2008, Brown the economic expert came into his own. He won praise for decisive leadership to prevent the collapse of the banking system.

The recent election campaign was the first to feature televised debates, which did the stolid Brown — once memorably described as “an analogue prime minister in a digital age” — no favors. Brown implored voters to focus on his substance, not his style. Some did, but not enough to avoid a second-place finish, and Labour’s worst election showing since the 1980s.

Associated Press Writers Sylvia Hui and Jennifer Quinn contributed to this report.

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