Europe’s politicians have a bad habit of exceeding their reception. Long after they’re out of office, they linger in post-power roles that are often annoyingly corrupt or out of date. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and now former British Prime Minister David Cameron have become synonymous with dry embarrassment after taking office. One name stands in the way of this trend: Gordon Brown.
The former Labor Party leader, who served as UK Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010 and previously Chancellor, has emerged as a role model of honesty and authority since leaving 10 Downing St. His friend, rival, and predecessor Blair – super popular in office – his image has collapsed, and his highly-paid advice to Kazakhstan and the Gulf states connects him inexorably with global kleptocracy. Brown’s successor, Cameron, caught in the aftermath of the collapse of Greensill Capital, reveals his intense lobbying with government ministers and officials to save the company from bankruptcy.
Nobody captures this state of mind or the influence of Britain better than Renzi, who proudly declared of his work with Saudi Arabia: “In Italy this is not entirely normal. It’s normal for Tony Blair, David Cameron, all the boys, Nicolas Sarkozy or former US presidents. In Italy, I’m one of the first to do that. “
Meanwhile, Brown has led a global campaign to end global “vaccine apartheid” by waving drug patents. His interventions, from COVID-19 to Scotland’s independence, have caught both public attention and the ears of politicians. This is not just good luck. Brown has mastered the art of post power.
Because politicians are younger and live longer, former prime ministers stay around longer. Cameron became Prime Minister at the age of 43. The average age of resignation of the prime minister since the 18th century was 61 years and the average age at death 73 years, between only 12 years. In addition, seven UK Prime Ministers died in office and another nine died just two and a half years after leaving office. Conversely, if Cameron hits the UK’s average modern life expectancy of 81, it can be assumed that he will work 31 years after the office.
This condemns former prime ministers to long stretches of postal power: a half-life in which they are both politicians and not, in which they both represent and not further represent their countries, in which they both play a role and play no role. Not only is this a very frustrating state for such hypercompetitive people, it is also a state of temptation. These are both financial and political, either to try to leverage accumulated connections to make money, or to continue playing a political role.
Or they can be psychological: once you’ve stepped into a world where the Superrichs were in some ways your peers, the desire to keep up with them or move on can be overwhelming. Unlike in the days of former British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill or James Callaghan, Prime Ministers are on average neither as independently wealthy nor as ideologically immune to these temptations as they were in the past. The globalized world also knocks on its bored doors and invites them to conferences, corporations or global bodies, as it was not in the days of Edward Heath or Alec Douglas-Home, who both stayed in Westminster.
Blair was a sad example of the temptations of postal power. Since leaving office, Blair has focused on establishing himself in a league with the super rich, with a variety of ties to authoritarian regimes. Cameron’s relationship with the unsuccessful UK-China fund and the collapsed Greensill Capital firm offers a failed version of the same story. As Blair and Cameron’s wealth increased, both men’s reputations and influence, especially in their own parties, have declined. Brown has avoided mingling with billionaires, thereby protecting and enhancing his reputation for integrity.
An important point for Brown was focus. Blair has taken over everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Brexit and vaccines at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. He regularly comments, conducts interviews and publishes opinion pieces – five in the Guardian alone in 2019.
Instead of skimming himself on a series of questions, Brown chose to be tight but deep. This means that he is making headlines on the issues he intervenes on – such as speaking out against Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum, a move that is widely recognized as important in the campaign. In comparison, Blair’s views are often in the media but have fewer causes. Brown’s focus on global education, Scotland, newborn health, economic recovery, and now vaccination patents has paid off – moving the dial.
More importantly, Brown has strengthened rather than diminished his moral authority since leaving office.
Brown’s financial decisions go back to the beginning. Not only did he refuse to take the Prime Minister’s pension, but his own professional decisions were conservative and cautious, for example as a member of the global advisory board of investment firm PIMCO. He has raised a significant amount for charity through philanthropic work by the Gordon and Sarah Brown office: $ 4,922,513 to date.
According to a spokesman for the bureau, “The costs of the bureau will be paid out of the revenue the bureau received for consulting and paid engagement from Gordon.” The spokesman also confirmed that neither Brown nor his wife received salaries, dividends or profits from the office Office received.
This sense of integrity was also reinforced by his personal choices. Where Blair sold his house in Sedgefield and cut ties with the northeast, Brown lives in North Queensferry, near Edinburgh. When it comes to moral authority, these little choices matter cumulatively.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that former UK Prime Minister Theresa May also avoided moral pitfalls, and Chancellor Angela Merkel likely will too. All three are children of Manse with a strong sense of personal honesty. Unfortunately, politicians cannot rely on that. Postal power is a political state and increasingly a problem. Russia, China, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Kazakhstan and others were able to find their clients in European legislations and after high offices, as colonial Great Britain and France once did abroad.
In France, Sarkozy was recently convicted of corruption. Capturing the mood of the European postal power, he told an audience in the United Arab Emirates that modern democracy is “destroying” the leadership and that the world’s greatest leaders come from undemocratic countries. Meanwhile, Renzi has tarnished his reputation in Italy by taking money from Saudi Arabia as an Italian senator and recently flying to the kingdom for a scratchy talk with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In Germany, Schröder sullied his name by serving on the board of Rosneft, the Kremlin’s state-owned oil company, and chairing the controversial Russian-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
What to do? Rules are needed, especially in times of armed kleptocracy and constant future political interference between adversaries, where greed of retired leaders can become a tool in the hands of great powers.
In Britain at least, the answer lies partly in the House of Lords. First, the arcane 796-strong body, which is larger than the House of Commons and, second, only as large as the Chinese People’s Congress, needs to be reshaped. A much smaller House of Lords, in effect an elected second chamber of nations and regions with a small, rotating, expert-appointed dimension on temporary terms, could be supplemented with automatic seats for former prime ministers.
This can be mixed with the imposition of strict transparency requirements on both houses of parliament: no second jobs, no financial ties to authoritarian powers, no lobbying for governments – including former prime ministers. A rule could be put in place whereby a former leader would sit in the House of Lords for a 15 year period after serving as Prime Minister and continue to serve in public life. A smaller chamber would also mean that each peer would get decent staff, as the US Senate does, instead of the current worn out capacity.
This would keep the UK leaders and all their knowledge serving the nation, ensuring that whatever they have won for the collective good is not immediately privatized for corporation or authoritarian gain. Rather than being a trendsetter for corrupt organizations, Westminster should set a global example of how politics can be protected from corruption in times of kleptocrats and predatory finances. And with strict rules, the UK wouldn’t have to rely on every future public official at 10 Downing Street to have Brown’s ethics to do so.