When the famous black door of Downing Street opened four years ago on 10 May and two little boys stepped out to hold the hands of their parents – Gordon and Sarah Brown – the nation, for a brief moment, felt as though it had seen something new. It was a sliver of the man behind the office he had held in this moment of farewell from Britain’s outgoing prime minister.
For the three or so years of his premiership – and the decade or so as chancellor of the exchequer that had gone before – Gordon Brown was a towering figure in British politics. Rumour and hearsay, filtered out through the press, jarred with the serious, steadfast demeanour he brought to the positions he held.
The Shakespearean quality of Gordon Brown’s rise to power and his slow, steady fall from it was widely commented upon at the time; a tragic hero who had sought power only for it splinter, piece by piece, once in his grasp. In The Confessions of Gordon Brown – a one-man show currently playing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – we get a fictional glimpse into the leader. He is funny, angry and charismatic in his own way and slides from fury to joy as swiftly as a voting paper drops into a ballot box.
Behind him there is a large clock, the minute and hour hands stuck at 05.45 as the seconds continue to tick their course around the clock face. What we have here is a man stuck in a moment of his own making: reliving the past in an attempt to make sense of the bubble of unvarnished truth he now finds himself in.
The idea of the confession is a compelling one, especially from a figure as omnipresent yet as enigmatic as Gordon Brown was as prime minister. What do politicians at the height of their powers think in moments of quiet; what do they say when the mics are off (hopefully) and the cameras have turned away?
The tumult currently enveloping governments from Kiev to Bangkok and Brussels to Beirut softens the boundary between the glossy public face of leadership and the unvarnished truths and motives that inevitably lie behind it. It makes the confession, or the telling of how it is, a particularly attractive prospect.
But politics – as Gordon Brown knew from the very beginning of his days as a student political activist – is not a simple as that. For to show your hand is to suggest that there is doubt and an end to power. For those who hold it, and for the rest of us who stand beyond it, that perhaps is the most unnerving confession of all.
Tomos Lewis is a producer for Monocle 24.