Brown the Outsider


The figure of the brooding, solitary ‘outsider’, features large in the annals of political history. Indeed, not just in politics. In music, The Schubert Cycle opens with the words ‘A stranger I come, a stranger I go’. And in art, Patroclus by Jacques-Louis David, depicts an introvert, naked man. 

The ‘outsider’ cast doesn’t fit all political characters. Although who saw Clement Atlee coming, or indeed Margaret Thatcher? Atlee was an inconspicuous, politburo man. Margaret Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter from an undistinguished Oxford College. 

Brown can also be cast in the ‘outsider’ role. In a revealing section of his Conference Speech Brown told his audience, “I did not come to London to become part of the establishment, I came to change it”. 

This reveals a self-awareness of his ‘outsider’ role. Unlike Tony Blair who embraced the establishment, or David Cameron who is related to it, Gordon Brown is conspicuously separate. 

At the beginning of Richard III, the Duke of Gloucester contrasts himself with a prominent member of the House of York, in a way that Brown might contrast himself with Blair or Cameron:

“He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber, To the lascivious pleasing of a lute. But I, that am not shap’d for sportive tricks, Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; That I am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty, To strut before a wanton ambling nymph; I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature, Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, And that so lamely and unfashionable, That dogs bark at me as I halt by them…”

Gordon Brown exudes none of the charm imbued by English public schooling, or the self-esteem afforded by Oxbridge, and he knows it. 

Consciousness of his ‘outsider’ role affects Brown’s behaviour. Unable to lord it, Brown shuns his audience and retreats into the shadows, while the critics pelt tomatoes at an empty stage.

Richard III continues…

“And therefore, since I can’t prove a lover, To entertain these well spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, And hate the idle pleasures of these days…”

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One thought on “Brown the Outsider

  1. Gosh, I was unaware there was such a thing as an *undistinguished* Oxford college!

    While we’re at it, could we perhaps relate Brown to Albert Camus’ Outsider? Judged by society not on his actual deeds but on their perception of his character… condemned by a shallow public, not for his policies or actions but merely for his relative lack of charisma.

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