UK: Profile - Gordon Brown, Labour's high-flying Scotsman. (2 of 3)

UK: Profile - Gordon Brown, Labour's high-flying Scotsman. (2 of 3) - All this talk of markets seems a long way removed from a man with his roots in socialist Scottish university politics. Is he or Labour still socialist? "By democratic socialism I mean

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

All this talk of markets seems a long way removed from a man with his roots in socialist Scottish university politics. Is he or Labour still socialist? "By democratic socialism I mean that the individual is able to reach their potential to the full. That can't be done by individuals or by market forces alone. We must act as a community: that's the contribution of democratic socialism - bridging the gaps left in markets."

As he rattles through the wasted opportunities his tone is quiet, the words measured, and there is none of the open hatred for the Government which consumes some of his more fiery colleagues. This, according to Peter Mandelson, Labour's former communications director, is typical: "His political beliefs are fiercely held. He's passionate in expressing them, but he's not a bitter or abusive person, not a Tory-hater in, say, the (Dennis) Skinner mould."

But regardless of the moderation of his tone, sceptics are concerned by the ogre of the hard left which they fear might lurk behind the mask. Brown himself brushes off the suggestion, but it is an issue which will remain for some.

The son of a minister of religion, Brown was born near Glasgow, but the family moved soon afterwards to the East coast. A bright child, he went through an accelerated education, taking his O levels at 14 and his "Highers" a couple of years later. He was at university by the age of 16.

Questions about his education bring out a more human side from the professional politician and a broad grin cracks across his face. He laughs out loud: "I was involved in an educational experiment. People were worried about the high rate of university failure from Scottish schools." The answer was to hustle brighter children through school, adding in an extra year for the accelerated stream to prepare them more fully for university. In practice, for many like Brown this never happened. "In retrospect I'd have got more out of it if I'd gone later, but on the other hand, because of an accident, I ended up spending most of the first year in hospital - so it cancelled out."

The "accident" which he refers to was a rugby injury that deprived him of the sight in one eye. He prefers to skirt around the incident and tends to avoid camera angles that emphasise his left eye. He does not want to be seen as disabled.

Brown has a reputation for single-minded devotion to the cause. He is reported to have spent one holiday in Harvard library and regularly to have to pay an excess baggage tariff to cover the scores of books which he always takes with him. This obsessive element of his character is one that bothers some industry observers. As one remarked: "He's so single minded that there's a danger he might get a bit manic," said one, adding: "Possibly he's too hands-on."

The suggestion makes Brown laugh. He protests that he spends his holidays playing tennis, golf and swimming, that the Harvard story, of course, is an exaggeration, and that of the excess baggage is a "complete myth".

He is now relaxed and suddenly it makes sense that everyone seems to view him differently. To Mandelson he is a politician who has "risen through hard work and by being a team player". Sir John Harvey-Jones agrees: "I've seen him and John Smith in a room bouncing ideas around together and it's very impressive - there's a real exchange going on." While to a fellow MP he is "a bit of a loner, driven by politics".

But for others his human face is the most dominant. Wilf Stevenson, a friend of 20 years' duration and director of the British Film Institute, says that Brown is anything but impersonal or isolated, and Bill Morris, deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, agrees. He has had close contact with Brown over the closure of the Rosyth dockyard (it is in Brown's Dunfermline constituency) and says that there is a genuine warmth towards him throughout the docks and town, generated by his ability to talk to anyone.

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