‘I am a conviction politician’

Having brought religion to 10 Downing Street in a much more public way than any prime minister since William Gladstone in the 19th century, Blair’s departure is unlikely to signal the end of the impact of faith on policy. However, the influence religion will have on Brown’s premiership will be profoundly different. The Scotsman has so far shown that his religious upbringing has imbued him with a sense of duty and a work ethic that contrasts with Blair’s missionary eagerness. After being crowned the party’s new leader on Sunday, Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party indicated how his religious background affects his outlook. «I am a conviction politician. Call it ‘the driving power of social conscience,’ call it ‘the better angels of our nature,’ call it ‘our moral sense,’ call it belief in ‘civic duty,’» he said. «I joined this party as a teenager because I believed in these values. They guide my work, they are my moral compass. This is who I am.» The «moral compass» was most evident in the former chancellor’s drive to relieve the debt burden on African nations – a policy that is often wrongly attributed solely to Blair. Brown grew up in the small town of Kircaldy and suffered an injury while playing rugby at the age of 16. It led to the teenager losing sight in one eye. As a result, Brown spent weeks in a darkened room. The experience is said to have brought about some kind of reawakening in the young man, who went on to obtain a doctorate in history before becoming an MP in 1983. As chancellor, he increased National Insurance contributions and pledged all the additional money raised to the National Health Service, which he credits with saving the sight in his other eye. Brown is often seen as dour and thrifty, which some people attribute to his Presbyterian upbringing. He admitted, for instance, that he could not listen to music for a year as he grieved for the death of his 10-day-old daughter in 2002. His background also seems to have had an impact on his authoritarian leadership style. Critics have called him a «control freak» and possessed of «Stalinist ruthlessness.» «Brown was brought up strictly and has inherited his father’s deep moral sense, and the Presbyterian sense, that you have to justify your life on earth by using your talents to the full,» Lord Wallace told Kathimerini English Edition. «My parents taught me that each and every one of us should have the chance to develop their talent, and that each of us should use whatever talents we have to enable people least able to help themselves,» said Brown in his speech on Sunday. This attitude is closer to Margaret Thatcher than Tony Blair. In her speeches, Thatcher often referred to her upbringing as the daughter of a grocer as she encouraged the British to work hard and be thrifty. People who have met Brown describe him as a gregarious character who bears no relation to his public persona. His determination to safeguard his privacy also extends to his religious beliefs. «Brown is a much more private man than Blair, introverted even,» said Lord Wallace. «It’s highly unlikely that he will wish to display his private beliefs in public political debate.» This view was confirmed yesterday when Brown responded to questions by readers of The Independent about whether he believes in God. «Yes I do. While this of course influences your life, religious faith is a personal matter,» he said. «My life and politics are influenced by the values and principles I grew up with: a belief in fairness, justice and opportunity.» After being simply an underlying factor in British politics for more than 100 years, it seems religion will continue to play a more prominent but different role as power is transferred from Blair to Brown.

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