Francis Wheen

One For The Lassies?

Gordon Brown: The Biography


Simon & Schuster 360pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

That definite article in the title looks rather presumptuous, not to say premature. Gordon Brown’s predecessor as Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, was the subject of two full-length biographies during his brief spell at the Treasury. Of the New Labour gang, Tony Blair and John Prescott have already been served up between hard covers, and several authors are said to be marinading and grilling Peter Mandelson. Can Frank Dobson and Michael Meacher be far behind?

The brilliant but now forgotten novelist B S Johnson once published a book called Aren’t You Rather Young to be Writing Your Memoirs?, and a similar question could be asked of those lobby hacks who turn out quickie lives of contemporary politicians. Paul Routledge’s previous books – on Arthur Scargill, Betty Boothroyd and John Hume – were at least about people who had been around for a while and done a thing or two. Gordon Brown, by contrast, was elected to the House of Commons in 1983 and until last May had spent his entire parliamentary career on the Opposition benches. His record so far might make an interesting newspaper profile, but scarcely justifies 360 pages.

I mean no offence to Mr Routledge. His book is, like its subject, attractive and intelligent – if also rather dour and cautious. He does his best to persuade us that the real Gordon Brown is a livelier cove than the grim-visaged Iron Chancellor

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