'Sacrifice' by Brown wins plaudits of party: Nicholas Timmins looks at the factors influencing the shadow Chancellor's decision

GORDON BROWN'S decision not to stand for the Labour leadership must rate as one of the toughest of his political career.

Up to the general election, Mr Brown and Mr Blair, personal friends as well as political soulmates since they entered Parliament in 1983, had always been teamed that way around. Mr Brown was the senior partner.

His starring performance as John Smith's deputy when the then shadow Chancellor had his first heart attack, and his effective soundbites as trade and industry spokesman, marked him in the public eye as the more heavyweight of the two, while his parliamentary colleagues voted him top of the Shadow Cabinet poll.

Only since the election campaign - during which Mr Blair became a more assertive and independent figure - and later when he more visibly carried the modernising torch and claimed law and order as a Labour issue, has the pecking order changed.

Mr Brown, tied as shadow Chancellor to a policy of deep caution so far ahead of a general election, saw his star wane. A year or two earlier - and possibly even a year or two later when economic policy was more fully developed - he would have been favourite to succeed.

His announcement not to stand won instant plaudits. Donald Dewar said it was a decision he had 'obviously agonised over', but it plainly 'enhances his position and his stature'.

His decision showed that Labour politics 'is not a just a chase for personal advancement . . . but about the cause and the building of a team that will win.'

Friends of Mr Brown insisted yesterday that soundings had shown broadly similar support for the two men among MPs, with Mr Blair marginally ahead. Trade union leaders were also dividing equally - but with much of their support interchangeable.

The pressure for Mr Brown to stand down came chiefly because of fears that a contest between the two would prove damaging, and because of opinion polls which consistently showed Mr Blair way ahead among voters - particularly among the floating vote that Labour needs to convert in the South and elsewhere.

Even a straw poll among Scottish MPs, which would have appeared Mr Brown's automatic constituency, did not show overwhelming support for the shadow Chancellor - some saying that while they felt an obligation to vote for him, they hoped he would stand aside.

Friends of Mr Brown said yesterday they feared a contest would have led their supporters to exaggerate differences between the two - possibly even creating tensions between them when their joint project is to get a modernised Labour party elected.

They also argued that the media would have damaged the party by painting the contest as one between a southern smoothie and a member of the Scottish mafia.

Union leaders praised Mr Brown for his decision. Bill Jordan, president of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said: 'It takes a strong, courageous and confident man to put the good of the party first.'

Nick Brown, a former member of Mr Brown's shadow Treasury team, said it was 'an extremely big decision made by a very big and generous man'.

Leading article, page 17

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence