In the early 90’s, I was sitting on a train to London reading a Guardian profile of a ‘coming man’ – Gordon Brown. And as the century wore on and the new one arrived, I was lucky enough to not only follow his illustrious career but to have personal and professional experience of his work for a better world in action. I was also fortunate to have worked for a while on a social campaign with his wife Sarah, before they were married. Both excellent people.
Today, in 2021, Gordon has in some ways come and gone – ex MP, ex PM and, many would argue, an ex politician now on the fringes of the public eye and debate. A political heavyweight in his day undoubtedly, but these days a lightweight voice on the edges of the current political cut and thrust.
Gordon Brown, as his new book Seven Ways to Change the World emphatically demonstrates, is still very much a heavyweight with an impressively clear political and social policy voice able to resonate across the globe.
Seven Ways is a deeply insightful, highly detailed, searchingly sensible and optimistic analysis of what the world and its governments should be doing to solve today’s growing and evident crises. Very few international figures have been able to articulate the ways ahead for a sustainable, more equitable future than Gordon Brown.
The world and its current leaders should listen to him. I suspect many are and whatever their motives – good or bad for humankind – many would agree with him. But, I fear, too few in the current domestic and international climate have the courage, the vision or the pragmatism to act on his words.
If Gordon’s personal humanity and his many political successes were not enough to validate why he is worth listening to today, then his extraordinary international leadership in steering the world through this century’s darkest financial crisis – the 2008 crash – should alone place him as one of the finest minds to help tackle the serious global issues now facing all nations, his seven – climate change, health, financial instability, nuclear proliferation, poverty, inequality and the need for increased education.
Ian Dale’s fine, recent book – The Prime Ministers: 55 Leaders, 55 Authors, 300 Years of History – outlines Gordon Brown’s incredible achievement over the crash by taking control of a desperate situation and leading the world into safer waters. He was the statesman countries and financial institutions listened to for direction, clarity and action.
‘…responding to domestic crises, on international affairs, and in response to the 2008 Financial Crash – Brown showed that he could be a stateman like few others. And how many prime ministers leave office knowing that when their country faced a crisis of previously unimaginable proportions, it was fortunate indeed to have had exactly the right person at the helm when they were needed most?’
Not what you say about more recent Prime Ministers – Cameron, May – and definitely not the current one.
And, unlike so many ex-Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown has never cashed in and chased the money. Gordon Brown’s post PM life has been full of solid work for domestic and international good especially in the field of education. I understand even proceeds from this book are going into good works.
The theme that binds Gordon Brown’s Seven Ways is the over-riding need for much closer international co-operation and new institutional structures to carry through the policies required for the future he outlines. The severe problems the world faces are not ones which individual nations and governments can solve. Climate change and pandemics do not care whether you are the UK, the US, Uruguay or Upper Volta. Never before in the history of humankind have we truly been ’all in it together’. Unless nations work together in ways not imagined before, unless there is much closer commitment to attacking world imbalances and injustices, everyone under the sun and for generations to come will suffer. Now is the time to act and move towards attacking these shared threats.
The ex-PM demonstrates that there is a great deal of evidence across the world from grass-root movements to governmental decisions – for example, in agreeing to bring down global greenhouse emissions – but all this is just the start. Each chapter in the book – each Way – identifies clear paths to improved outcomes. The challenge for all is to grasp the nettle and create much greater momentum.
And Gordon Brown is optimistic – the changes can be made. But, perhaps, this is the only weakness in his arguments. How much is there to be optimistic about? Despite the doom bells of climate change ringing in its ears, is the world doing enough and prepared enough to make the tough choices? COP 26 is coming up in Glasgow this November but many already see worrying signs that governments will fail to come armed with the commitments required. Health – COVID has rocked the entire world but vaccine imbalances will continue to stalk everywhere unless there is greater international co-operation and action from the richest countries to make the whole world safe for people to live in , do business with and travel to. COVID has vastly contributed but financial problems still haunt global and individual economies. The need for green new deals has never been more urgent but radical new ways of thinking and institutions are needed to work out solutions.
Whatever ‘normal’ is on any other side of COVID – a world where we will have to live with such viruses because this and other ones are not going away – the international community requires calm, experienced and visionary minds to help us and our children survive. Gordon Brown is such a visionary – one steeped in political and social reality – and he deserves to be at the table of any international debate. Far from a man who has come and gone, Gordon Brown is very much a man of the present and the future.
A personal rider – in 2005, Gordon Brown gave a speech at a central London nursery to talk about the potential of children, how precious it is and how it must be nurtured. This wonderful speech and interviews he gave around it had a deep impact on me, especially as at the time I was heading up communications for a major UK children’s charity with its core objective to fight for the same thing. And it was a major reason why, when I came to write my first novel about children fulfilling their talents, I called the book Potential.
Gordon Brown's Seven Ways to Change the World is published by Simon & Schuster.
Visit www.gordonandsarahbrown.com for more information on both Gordon and Sarah Brown.
The 2005 speech on the potential of children by Gordon Brown - https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2005/apr/15/election2005.uk2