Brown, (James) Gordon
British Labour politician, prime minister and leader of the Labour Party from 2007. He was chancellor of the Exchequer 1997-2007. He succeeded Tony Blair as Labour Party leader (and prime minister) without challenge from within the party, when Blair stepped down in June 2007. Early in his leadership he was tested by a series of events, including floods, terrorist attacks, and an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and proved to be a resolute leader. This converted into high public approval ratings, but this was to change by the end of the year, as the global financial crisis from September 2007 undermined the UK banking sector and the economy suffered. Throughout 2008-09, Brown was active on the international scene in encouraging other world leaders to work together to combat the financial crisis, but his domestic poll ratings were low leading up to the spring 2010 general election.
Brown entered Parliament in 1983, rising quickly to the opposition front bench. He took over from John Smith as shadow chancellor in 1992. After Smith's death in May 1994, he declined to challenge his close ally Tony Blair for the Labour Party leadership, retaining his post as shadow chancellor, and assuming the chancellorship after the Labour victory in the 1997 general election.
During the Labour government's first term 1997-2001, he gained the reputation of being an ‘iron chancellor’, maintaining firm control over public expenditure. He ceded to the Bank of England full control of interest rates, and promoted such key initiatives as the ‘welfare to work’ programme directed against unemployment and funded by a windfall tax imposed on privatized utilities, and the introduction of tax credits to increase the incentives for those on lower incomes to be employed. During his tenure as chancellor, which was the longest since the early 19th century, the country experienced continuous economic growth, with GDP increasing an average 2.7% per annum 1997-2007, the unemployment rate falling from 7% to 5.5%, and more funds being allocated to the National Health Service.
As prime minister during the global financial crisis, his government was forced to nationalize the Northern Rock bank in February 2008, part-nationalize three larger UK banks later that year, and pump billions of pounds into propping up the banking sector. Meanwhile, the effect on the UK's economy was severe, with the sharpest fall in GDP since 1931, amounting to 6% between early 2008 and late 2009; the unemployment rate rising to 8% in late 2009; and the government facing a massive funding deficit that would require future tax increases and deep cuts in public expenditure.
Brown was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, the son of a Church of Scotland minister. He achieved a first in history at Edinburgh University before he was 20 and then a doctorate. After four years as a college lecturer and three as a television journalist, he entered the House of Commons as MP for Dunfermline East in 1983. An avid reader and author, with an appetite for new ideas, he became one of the key architects of ‘New Labour’. His political beliefs, influenced strongly by his upbringing, are those of a Christian social democrat who is committed to improve conditions and opportunities for the disadvantaged.
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