The political journey of Gordon Brown

Chris Harvie on the many faces of the Prime Minister.

This is an opportune moment, following Gordon Brown's momentous statement earlier today, to revisit my Books Interview with Christopher Harvie, MSP for the Scottish National Party and author of Broonland: the Last Days of Gordon Brown.

Your book Broonland traces the political trajectory of Gordon Brown. You first met him in the mid-1970s, didn't you?
He worked part-time for the Open University and I worked in the history department. But I really got to know him in autumn 1978, when I moved to the Institute for Advanced Studies at Edinburgh University. Brown and I came together when we were running the Lothian Labour campaign for a Yes vote in the 1979 referendum on the Scotland Act. He emerged from that campaign with very great credit, whereas the rest of the Labour Party was nowhere. I suspect that out of that came a degree of disillusionment on his part with the party. The guys who worked hardest were the Communists - the NUM vice-president Mick McGahey, people like that. The Communists were dogmatic, but they were honest! These are the people that Lawrence Daly [the Scottish miners' leader at whose funeral last year Brown read the eulogy] came from. And don't forget that quite a few contributions to The Red Paper on Scotland, edited by Brown, came from the Communist Party. Brown had a degree of trust in these guys that he didn't have either in the machine politicians of west central Scotland or in the Trots.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

 

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Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.