Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown plans to increase his focus on global development after stepping down as a member of the parliament at the next election, according to aides who supported him during his term in office.
Brown’s resignation after the U.K. general election in May 2015, will end a 31-year career in national politics. However, in recent years the former leader of the Labour Party has increased his development profile, especially on issues affecting children. Shortly after being appointed U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education in 2012, with his wife Sarah Brown he co-founded the international charity Theirworld, which campaigns for universal access to education and encourages business leaders to accelerate progress toward achieving this goal.
Alison McGovern MP, who worked for Brown as his parliamentary private secretary from 2010 until his resignation and is now a shadow minister for education, told Devex there was “no sense in which Gordon is retiring at all.”
Instead, the former prime minister’s attention will likely turn to focusing on advocating for meeting the Millennium Development Goals before the 2015 deadline, and McGovern said Brown thus has an “important job to do over the next year.”
“The MDGs, even though they mature next year, still have a way to go and he’s got to focus on trying to meet those goals,” she explained. “Gordon has been at the forefront of the challenge of the goals since they were written, and he’ll remain to do so.”
McGovern credited Brown’s “passion, intelligence and dedication,” which she said was recognized by global development professionals across the sector. Her thoughts were echoed by Claire Leigh, who worked with Brown in his strategy unit in 2009. Leigh is currently the Overseas Development Institute’s budget strengthening initiative program manager, and chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development.
“The education role will expand and there are lots of things he’s planning within that, for example, the Education Without Borders initiative for children specifically denied access to education who are living in conflict-affected and fragile states,” she told Devex.
This initiative was commissioned by digital platform A World at School, which is run by Theirworld and researched by the ODI. It argues for education to become an integral part of humanitarian response, focusing particularly on the Syrian crisis.
Leigh suggested other issues important to Brown during his time in office would continue to be a priority in the future, citing maternal mortality, which Brown and his wife lead a global campaign to reduce around the world. She also also pointed to the work the former PM did to improve Internet access and extend fast broadband services to people in the U.K. “He regards that as a priority for the development role as well,” Leigh said of Brown, who currently sits on the board of the World Wide Web Foundation.
Commenting on his legacy, Leigh credited Brown for initiating an agreement to write off $40 billion of debt owed by 18 developing countries at the 2005 G-8 Summit in Gleneagles, as well as successfully arguing for aid to be doubled for the poorest countries.
“That could have very easily just been a group of leaders who were focused solely on rescuing the global economy. But it was Gordon that said it needs to be more than this, it needs to be about growing a global economy which is equal and fair for everyone,” said Leigh. “He’s a wonderful champion and advocate for development.”
Brown’s influence on increasing U.K. foreign aid flows was echoed by another former aide, Kirsty McNeill, after MPs last week backed for a third time a parliamentary bill that will ensure 0.7 percent of the country’s gross national income is spent on official development assistance.
“That 0.7 percent is now firmly established as a permanent fact of British policy is the end of a long march for Gordon Brown, who started campaigning about aid and development more than 30 years ago,” said McNeill, who spent three years leading on campaign, communication and outreach activities for Brown. “It was a passion which preceded parliament and will continue long after he leaves parliament. It speaks volumes that the work to which he'll dedicate himself after retirement from frontline politics is the education of the poorest of the world.”
During his resignation speech in the House of Commons, Brown pledged to continue a life of public service in his U.N. role and outlined what he hoped he and his wife could achieve.
“What seems a simple, but is a revolutionary goal for our age,” he said. “That free of child labor, and free of child marriage, and free of child trafficking, and free of discrimination against girls, that every single child in the world — and we would be the first generation to ever do it — has a right to go to school.”
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