Where now for UK's Brown in political afterlife?
Gordon Brown faces the challenge of carving a role for himself after bowing out as British prime minister—something that turned some of his predecessors into sulky depressives or backstage conspirators.
For Brown, a towering figure in British politics for more than a decade, domestic power and the world stage has gone in a flash.
The 59-year-old will continue as the member of Parliament for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, north of Edinburgh, a job he says he loves.
But as he starts his first week out of the limelight, speculation is rife as to how long the workaholic ex-PM will be content to remain a simple MP.
Few expect a man used to the adrenaline of power and the intellectual challenge of top-level decision-making to be content handling humdrum complaints in his home town.
When the axe falls in British politics, it is brutally swift.
Brown was the prime minister, Labour Party leader and head of Her Majesty’s government with grace-and-favour homes, a top salary, ministerial cars, high-security protection, a nuclear button and world leaders on speed dial.
Within half an hour last Tuesday, he became an ordinary opposition backbencher with his career peak behind him.
But few British leaders leave on their own terms, said Kevin Theakston, the author of After Number 10: Former Prime Ministers in British Politics, which came out last week.
And the dramatic loss of power and prestige could be disorientating, he said.
“Some of them find it a hard transformation,” the professor of British government at Leeds University said. “Brown has still got a lot of zip and is looking for something to do to fill the void. Being a backbencher is ultimately not going to be enough. He’s got something still to prove.”
The former Edinburgh University rector could resume his academic career or write more books.
Brown has previously indicated his post-office interests could include charity work and education.
“I don’t want to do business or anything else; I just want to do something good,” he said in a pre-election interview.
A job such as leading the International Monetary Fund might attract Brown, who has long wanted to restructure the world’s financial architecture.
“Brown is widely respected in the United States and on the world stage—during the credit crunch he greatly impressed world leaders,” Theakston said.
Brown seems set against his predecessor, Tony Blair’s, highly profitable jet-set life.
“Brown’s not much interested in money,” Theakston said. “I could well see him setting up a charitable foundation or a personal think-tank. Brown is a serious intellectual with an interest in international development, poverty and global issues.
“There isn’t a fixed pattern for former PMs. You invent the job for yourself.
“The modern practice of setting up a foundation gives you a platform and a base. Brown’s got a lot of options.”
In his resignation speech, Brown said in leaving “the second-best job in the world”, he cherished the best even more—being a husband and father.
Since then, except for a short visit to a local college in Kirkcaldy, the Scot has laid low.
“Brown’s clearly exhausted, battered by events,” said Theakston. “But he is a survivor, he’s got a lot of resilience and he’ll pretty soon recover his energy.”
Finding a constructive role
Brown could look to the example of the previous six prime ministers, who have each taken their own slant on life after office.
Blair is a Middle East peace envoy, runs sport and faith foundations, and an Africa governance initiative, has advisory roles with investment banks and does well-paid lectures.
John Major, the last Conservative prime minister before David Cameron, devoted himself to cricket, while Margaret Thatcher tried to be a “backseat driver”.
Of previous Labour prime ministers, James Callaghan retired to his farm, while Harold Wilson joined the board of a light opera company.
The Conservatives’s Ted Heath famously spent 27 years sulking on the backbenches.
“The difficulty is finding a constructive role,” Theakston said.
“For some prime ministers it was a major blow, they took it badly, got depressed and fed up.
“Heath never came to terms with it. He isolated himself sulking and that overshadowed his achievements.
“Major’s a good model. He’s peacefully accepted it’s all over. He’s not raging, fuming and plotting like Thatcher did.
“It’s much better just to clear off the stage altogether.”—AFP