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Gordon Brown's moral courage


In 2007, shortly before he became prime minister, Gordon Brown wrote a book entitled Courage. It was a collection of eight profiles of 20th-century figures and how they overcame adversity through bravery, but it was also an examination by the author of the very essence of courage.

Tomorrow, Brown will do something not on the scale of the bravery shown by his book's subjects – who included Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela – but which nonetheless deserves some respect: he will for the first time since leaving Downing Street four years ago break bread with the same political journalists who helped write him out of office. I don't mention Brown's book on courage because talking to the Westminster lobby is like taking on apartheid or the Burmese junta – that would be silly. I do so because it is interesting to examine Brown's motivation for returning to frontline politics.

Unlike some of the more out-of-character things that Brown was persuaded to do when he was PM, his visit to the press gallery was not decided by spin doctors – although his former No 10 press aide, the Labour MP Michael Dugher, is peppering Brown's speech with jokes. Brown is returning to face the largely hostile Westminster press because of his new mission to stop Scottish independence. And it is that mission that is driven by courage.

In a brilliant review of Courage in May 2007, Philip Gould, the late New Labour guru, wrote: "Brown has a very distinctive view of the courage that matters to him. It is not the absence of fear, nor even the conquering of fear in isolation. It is the relentless pursuit of moral purpose … well away from both the empty courage of the mercenary, or the destructive courage of the suicide bomber. Courage must mean something good to be real."

Last week, in Edinburgh, Brown said he was returning to save the union for his children and for their children. He believes that keeping the UK together is the right thing, and whether you agree with him or not, he is brave to lead this fight. It would be easy for Brown to retreat to his Fife summerhouse and write more books, or restrict himself to the plush suites of international summits in his role as United Nations envoy on girls' education, to never again beg voters to listen to him.

Putting yourself so prominently in the fight for a No vote is a dangerous place to be when opinion could at any moment teeter towards a Yes. Given the way he was ridiculed and lambasted, including by the media, in his final months in office, Brown could be forgiven for staying away for ever. Yes, the ex-PM has made few appearances in the Commons since 2010, but when he has turned up he has made it count – such as the impassioned speech on girls' education in Syria that he made in February.

Like Syria, Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom is a cause about which Brown is passionate. It would be a cowardly politician who stayed away. Despite Brown's shortcomings in personnel management, to put it euphemistically, I always winced at the personal abuse that was directed at him. Brown also suggested last week that he did not enjoy being Prime Minister – something many who worked with him believed at the time.

Presumably, then, he remained in No 10 despite his discomfort because he thought he was doing good. So, if he hates every minute of being among Westminster's journalists again, we know it is, as Philip Gould observed, in his relentless pursuit of moral purpose.

Johnson also says No

On the subject of Labour leaders, Alan Johnson, the best holder of that position the party never had, last week rejected the idea of taking a seat in the House of Lords.

The former Home Secretary was speaking in West Dulwich, south London, to the Family Rights Group, a charity of which he is a patron, during a tour promoting his book This Boy, his moving account of his impoverished childhood.

Perhaps a seat on the red benches and an ermine cloak would be an ill-fitting next step for the 64-year-old's political career. While he didn't sound like he was about to return to frontline politics, I wouldn't bet against Johnson taking up one of the great offices of state if Labour wins the election – perhaps Foreign Secretary?

A good D-Day to bury news?

As the drama of D-Day was unfolding on the beaches of Normandy on 6 June 1944, Winston Churchill kept the House of Commons updated with news of Allied advances. But Hansard from the same day also reveals that the Treasury was up to some cloak-and-dagger action of its own.

The Labour MP Evelyn Walkden accused Chancellor Sir John Anderson of releasing the actor Barry Sinclair from RAF duties so that he could return to the stage in order to boost Treasury coffers to the tune of £1,200 a week in "Entertainments Duty". Sinclair had ostensibly been recalled from service to fill in for Ivor Novello in The Dancing Years while Novello served a prison sentence for flouting petrol rationing, but the move certainly helped the Treasury's war chest.

Panini feeds my inner child

For some reason, I never collected Panini World Cup stickers when I was a child, so for this year's tournament I've bought my daughter, nearly four, an album. But it takes her ages to peel the wrapper and work out what goes where, so I'm afraid to say I've taken it over.

We've nearly filled Costa Rica and France but my enthusiasm came unstuck when I heard that it would take buying 899 packs of five stickers to fill the album. At 50p a pack I would need to spend £450. There are only 600-plus stickers to collect, but because of duplicates you need to buy that many. This doesn't account for the huge market in swaps, of course, which used to be confined to playgrounds but thanks to the internet is now a worldwide trade. Yet my swapping abilities are more Liechtenstein than Brazil – in a got-got-need exchange with a colleague yesterday, his huge stack of swaps dwarfed my pitiful pile of just four.