In the spectacular setting of McEwan Hall, the recording of the Gordon Brown episode of Matt Forde’s podcast, The Political Party, provided a one-hour insight into the life, work and ideas of one of the few world leaders who is a true public servant, interested in the livelihoods of the people he represents over his own personal interests.
The first topic that was explored were Brown’s thoughts on the current state of the UK economy, a topic he has much expertise in and feels strongly about, reflected in his lobbying efforts towards the current government to act on their ‘first duty’ to decrease poverty throughout the country. Matt Forde made the direct comparison between the state of the UK economy that the next Tory leader will inherit with the UK that the Labour government inherited in 1997. Brown argued that Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have a moral duty to get together to work out an emergency budget, and if not, parliament should be recalled to avoid a recession in October. Poverty is a political issue close to Brown’s heart, resulting in moving comments from him on how the ‘tense conditions’ the UK currently finds itself in was a state he had not previously believed the UK could return to. Such commentary highlighted the depth of the crisis the UK finds itself in, exacerbated by politicians unwilling to take action or to present the people of the UK with an effective plan.
Throughout the episode, Brown showcased his encyclopedic knowledge of world leaders through personal anecdotes, which provided an interesting insight into the human characters of world leaders. Brown remarked that Putin’s psyche could be summed up through a single anecdote of his, which he thought highlighted Putin’s obsession with strength. According to Brown, the first time they met, he was surprised at Putin’s height (or lack thereof, given that Wikipedia states that he is 5’7 when he is in fact 5’5). Putin apparently wore platform shoes, and made sure that his guest sat in a low armchair, whilst he sat at a much higher level. Brown commented that this was all ‘just threats’ and, like so many other leaders, remarked that the only way to deal with Putin is to respond with strength.
Another issue that Brown and Forde discussed was the current Tory leadership race, and Truss’ comments about how she would ‘ignore’ Sturgeon’s calls for another referendum. As a Scot himself, having spent his student years at the University of Edinburgh, Brown’s comments on this topic proved to be insightful. He argued that, like so many other issues in politics at the moment, including the cost-of-living crisis, leaders need to come together to solve the issue, and that ignoring the Scots would lead to further disillusionment of the Scottish people with the British union. His exceptional oratory skills shined throughout as he remarked that English politics had got to a ‘ridiculous position stemming from the muscular unionism’ championed by Boris, leading to a lack of conversation and a more insular nationalist approach.
Finally, he was asked by Ford about his transformative effect on the Labour party, which turned the party into an ‘election winning machine’ that resulted in a 13-year Labour government, bringing about vast social and political changes in the UK. His answers demonstrated a humility which is incredibly difficult to come by in many leaders currently in office, and argued that he believes that like in 1997, the UK is ready for another transformative change, but arguably an even greater change now than in 1997.
Throughout the hour that I spent in Brown’s presence, it was clear to me that he is genuinely dedicated to public service. This was highlighted by the fact that he has spent his retirement setting up an organisation dedicated to re-purposing excess stocks from large companies, like Amazon, to give to those who cannot afford these items otherwise. It was so refreshing to see and hear from someone who clearly had such a wealth of knowledge, and who was putting that to use, by proposing (and now lobbying for) a clear plan for the tumultuous time that the UK will likely face in the next couple of months, in order to genuinely help the average UK citizen.
Brown surprised me, by being far more personable and humorous than he is often given credit for: within minutes of walking onto the stage, he had the crowd laughing and applauding. But more than that, he showcased an ability to be self-critical and reflective, on his achievements, but also his failures, which is not something that the UK has seen under its recent leadership. The exceptional oratory skills he is known for made for an incredibly interesting show. It was an honour to attend this episode of The Political Party, and I would highly recommend giving it a listen as soon as it is out.
The episode is due to be released on all major podcast platforms on Tuesday 9 August.
Upcoming Matt Forde Political Party Edinburgh Fringe specials include Anas Sarwar on 15 August and Joanna Cherry on 22 August. More info and tickets at mattforde.com
Images: David Monteith Hodge, provided to The Student as press material.