Francis Beckett

Gordon Brown is a strange man. Everyone says so.  Blairites say it with rolling eyes, significantly tapping the sides of their elegantly coiffured heads.  Brownites say it with the sort of admiration that often comes close to despair. 

The despair comes from the strangest thing about him: that the charismatic radical he can be – the man I interviewed for my Brown biography early in 2007, a month before he became Prime Minister - is a man whom, most of the time, he feels he has to hide.

 We’re seeing the real man now, when his back’s against the wall. The moment we started to see it was when he forgot to turn off the microphone round his neck, and uttered the words “a sort of bigoted woman.”

Then, he realised that all the elaborate care he had taken to seem harmless, boring even, was pointless. The words he thought could be heard only by a single aide in the back of his car were spoken quietly, without anger, without expletives. It sounded like a man who was still watching his tongue.  Yet it was enough for his enemies to rush to the microphone and tell the world that he’d produced yet another mad tantrum.

Perhaps, unconsciously, he thought: to hell with it, I may as well be myself. He went a day or so later to Bradford University, where my sister - who teaches there – tells me he spoke with radical passion.  Others say that in those last speeches of the campaign he seemed transformed.

And now, having decided on the strategy that stands the best chance of keeping the Conservatives out of Downing Street, he stands on the steps of 10 Downing Street and delivers speeches which, as the Telegraph’s right wing columnist Simon Heffer writes, spell out clearly the exact constitutional position – and offer a radical, reforming government for the Liberals to support.

If he can put together a deal now, he could buy us a year to stop the Tories from dismantling the welfare state.