Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown reflects upon his career and family in interview with David Axelrod at IOP Event

Brown stressed the importance of global cooperation in policy making and discussed the challenges of work-life balance


Institute of Politics

The Institute of Politics building.

By Ben Wiener

David Axelrod spoke with former United Kingdom prime minister Gordon Brown about his passion for politics and the importance of global cooperation in policy making at a virtual Institute of Politics event on Wednesday.

Brown began the talk by explaining how his childhood shaped his passion for politics. Growing up in Scotland, he knew that he wanted to change the environment around him. “I felt the poverty that I saw around me because this was a time of huge change—the mining industry was falling,” he said. “I remember one company just a few yards from where I lived had a factory and 500 people were made redundant in one week. And that really had an influence on me. I thought, ‘You got to be able to do something about this.’”

Brown also explained his continuing motivation for working in politics. “Public service can make a difference. Politics is not a game; it’s about changing things. Politics is about hope. It’s about giving people hope that things can change,” he said.

Brown then emphasized the need to foster global cooperation and fight rising nationalist sentiment among individual countries. “We’ve almost been oblivious to the fact that we’ve got a global economy, it’s an open global economy,” he pointed out. “You’ve got to have coordinated policies with other countries if you're going to make things happen. We’ve seen that during the pandemic; we know exactly that’s the problem on climate change. That one country can’t solve that problem alone.”

To solve global issues such as climate change and COVID-19, he argued for greater cooperation. Specifically speaking about global COVID-19 vaccination, Brown called the current effort “a moral failure of huge proportions.”

“We’ve got the vaccines. We could get them to Africa, but there’s not the money and there’s not been the pressure, sufficiently strong, so that we actually suffer because the virus comes back in a new form,” he said.

However, Brown noted the importance of mitigating globalization. He said, “You’ve got to manage globalization, otherwise you get the results that we’ve now got, which is massive inequality.”

Axelrod also asked Brown about losses in his personal life, and how they affected him. Brown shared that the night before his father died, Brown cut short a phone call with his father because he was busy with work. “It is something that I will always regret,” Brown said. He then reflected on the impact of his daughter’s death, 11 days after birth. “When my daughter died, that also made me think that family is really important. These things touch you and the time you give to your children is really important,” he said.

Brown ruminated on the balance between work life and personal life: “[Witnessing family death] does bring home that there’s something more to life than work, but it also drives you on to do some of the things that you think are important.”