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His moral compass

by
05 December 2014

WHEN Gordon Brown gave notice of his intention to leave Parliament next May, after 30 years as an MP, he referred once again to his father. "I still hold to the belief in something bigger than ourselves. I still hold to a belief in the moral purpose of public service, something I learnt from my father, and which I hope to inspire in my children." The Revd John Brown was a Church of Scotland minister in Kirkcaldy, working selflessly for the poor and unemployed in the depressed coastal town.

Never has the phrase "child of the manse" been more applicable. At a time when his predecessor, freed from the constraints of the party's PR department, was talking openly about his faith, Gordon Brown struggled to speak with ease on the topic. He fell back on his father's faith, saying that his "moral compass" had been fixed by his father - a modest declaration of faith, but eloquent to those who know Scottish presbyterianism. Gordon Brown's character flaws - real, imagined, and almost certainly exaggerated - have been picked over, not least by members of his own party. His achievements, both as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister, will continue to be disputed.

But what will endure is his sense of duty to those whom he represented, and most particularly to the poor, in a commitment learnt at his father's knee. It was what drew him to politics, and his rejection of Westminster can be read as an indictment: "Sometimes politics is seen at best as a branch of the entertainment industry. There are times when political parties seem not to be agents of change but brands to be marketed to people who are seen as consumers."

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