John McTernan: Gordon Brown goes out on a high

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Picture: Neil Hanna
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Picture: Neil Hanna
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It’s the end of an era. A giant is leaving the stage. Gordon Brown is standing down from his seat in parliament. We will all miss him. A lot.

What a career he’s had. When he stands down at the next General Election Gordon will have been making political waves for 45 years. He started as student Rector of Edinburgh University and ended as prime minister – and did so much more in between.

A swashbuckling radical in his youth, he edited the Red Paper on Scotland. At that time he worked closely with another rising star of Scottish Labour, Robin Cook.

Their subsequent falling-out was notorious – and very Scottish – but Brown made a gracious and eloquent acknowledgement of his faults in this feud at Robin’s funeral.

Gordon was and is notoriously disorganised. Piles of books and papers everywhere. The joke went that his flat in Marchmont, Edinburgh, was burgled and that, on arrival, the police he had called asked: “How did you know?”

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But it was the disorganisation of a restless mind, voraciously seeking new insights. I remember meeting him in 2000 to discuss transport in London. I had a copy of a 100-page US Department of Defense Report on the internet.

Before we started talking Gordon leaned forward. “What’s that?” he said, taking the report from me and passing it to his private secretary with a terse order to copy the report. It went into the bundle of papers he kept under his arm. And quickly into his brain and frame of reference.

There was a moment when it appeared that Gordon’s reputation would be defined by the 2010 General Election and his loss of office.

But then came the referendum. And not so much a “last hurrah” as a new lease of life for Gordon. This was a triumphant second act – the former prime minister coming back to rescue the United Kingdom.

We had all his greatness – and all his phases. There was the son of the manse preaching the old time religion. The young radical rousing audiences. The hyper-political intelligence analysing and acting. And the natural leader dictating terms to the leaders of all parties, including the Prime Minister. All of us remembered just how good he could be.

It is sad to see him go but the referendum campaign means Gordon leaves on a high. And it is time. We can regret the loss, but he leaves in place a generation fit to succeed him, whether it is Jim Murphy, who looks set to take over as Scottish Labour Party Leader, or Douglas Alexander who will be a powerful and influential Foreign Secretary.

But the last word should go to Gordon. He held a party in North Queensferry. He said to the guests that he had looked at all his election leaflets and that the first one had said: “What this constituency needs is a young and vigorous MP.” However, the leaflet for the 2001 election had said: “What we need is a mature and experienced member of parliament.”

A good joke, but a good point too. The world needs mature and experienced politicians, and our loss is a gain for the world.

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