Friday, October 12, 2007
"Born the son of a Presbyterian minister in 1951, Gordon Brown was exposed daily to the human cost of industrial decline. The poor appeared at the door of the Kirkcaldy manse, asking for help. From the pulpit, his father urged on both his community and his sons the duty of hard work and service to others, railing against inequality and the transience of riches. The young Brown was writing political commentaries for his brother's hand-produced newsletter when he was barely a teenager and was so accomplished a student that he enrolled at Edinburgh University when he was sixteen. However a rugby injury, which detached the retinas of both his eyes, meant that he spent six months of his freshman year in the hospital, bedridden and in complete darkness. The experience left him with a sentimental faith in the NHS that had nursed him to recovery, while confronting the fear of permanent blindness seems to have sealed Brown's identification with the vulnerable. He emerged blind in his left eye, his right damaged but functioning—though he still needs to print his speeches in large type and to rest them on a bulked-up dispatch box in the House of Commons in order to see them. An ancillary effect was on his face. Not only did the dead left eye alter his appearance, but one of the four operations was botched, so that a smile no longer triggered the appropriate facial muscles. The result is the dour countenance which has become so central to the popular conception of Brown. It means that one of the many shifts of June 27 was the transition from a prime minister who smiled all the time to a prime minister who cannot smile naturally at all." -- Jonathan Freedland.