Many critics in industry are worried about Brown's lack of personal experience. He is, after all, a historian and journalist by training, they say, who has "never got his hands dirty". Supporters argue that he wants to talk and listen, in contrast to successive Conservative ministers, and anyway, how many politicians of any party have industrial backgrounds?
However limited his experience of industry, his political career has always been "hands on", rather than merely intellectual. It began while a student in the early '70s. he used Edinburgh's ancient constitution to call for a greater say in the running of the university. The largely honorific post of rector was an elected one and Brown stood for the job. At the age of 21 he was chairing a meeting of the governing body. "It was an interesting idea," he chuckles. "I learnt a lot, but you might argue that I could have spent my time better."
An interesting facet of Brown's personality is that, on or off the record, he dislikes criticising people. Politics, he believes, is about issues and movements, not individuals. Accordingly he declines to rate his opposite number, Peter Lilley, whom many feel he easily outmatches in debate. Margaret Thatcher is similarly dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders, although he pays a grudging compliment to her sense of purpose and her ability to convince everyone of the need for change. He shakes off the question of personalities quickly: "It's not just Mrs Thatcher but the whole party which has this idea of Britain as a nation of self-seeking individuals competing against each other in a vast marketplace."
Brown has always been a nationalist, playing a key role in the pro-devolution Labour campaign at the end of the '70s. Some of that fire has cooled, no doubt, but he still places great emphasis on balanced regional development and decentralisation. His commitment shows too in his personal life: "I don't think since I was elected in '83 I've spent a weekend in London. My home is in Scotland, my constituency is in Scotland, and I can't see myself ever being anything other than a Scot."
In addition to his intellectual ability and track record, his Scottish roots help his chances as a future Labour leader. As another Labour MP puts it: "The thing about Gordon is he's a Scot and the Labour Party is now a Scottish party." Naturally Brown refuses to speculate on the possibility of leading the party: that would be out of character and not playing for the "team". Politics, he believes, are about policies, and there are too many egos in Westminster. Can he summarise his philosophy? As he admits to being an idealist, a mischievous grin spreads across his face: "I like to think of politics as being the art of not the possible but rather the desirable."
1951 Born in Glasgow, son of minister of religion
1969 Joined Labour Party
1972-75 Elected rector of Edinburgh University
1977-84 Member of executive of Scottish Labour Party; chairman 1983-84.
Journalist with Scottish Television 1980-83. Contested Edinburgh
1983 Wins rock-safe Dunfermline East
1987 Elected deputy to John Smith as shadow Chief Secretary to the
Treasury. Comes to public attention following Smith's 1988 heart
1989 Made spokesman on trade and industry