OF all the former UK Prime Ministers still active in public life, only Gordon Brown has strived to improve the lives of those most in need of help. While others cashed in their occupancy of Downing Street in exchange for property empires, riches and influence, Mr Brown seems to have experienced a spiritual reawakening of those principles which compelled him to choose politics for a career.

His friend and New Labour project manager Tony Blair has built a property empire since demitting office. He also tours the world posing as a sort of geopolitical door-to-door salesman selling respectability to regimes and corporations who want to be considered upright and civilised.

David Cameron’s post-Downing Street activities don’t have the avid, grasping aspect of Mr Blair’s, perhaps because he was already rich. But his lobbying activities on behalf of the financial services company Greensill grossly cheapened the great office he once held and made you wonder (not for the first time) if there’s anything that high Tories won’t do to make more money.

Boris Johnson, you could argue, couldn’t do any more damage to the office of Prime Minister than he already did while in situ. He too has lost little time cashing in on his limited time in office. Last year, it was reported that in the first six months since leaving office, Mr Johnson had received earnings, hospitality and donations worth more than £5m, including £2.5m in advance of speeches. This included speeches to insurers and investment bankers, representing those sectors whose interests are always paramount in the Conservative Party agenda.

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Liz Truss might only have lasted 45 days in Downing Street, yet that still entitled her to draw up a resignation honours list. Grasping to the last, she used it to ennoble a cast of characters seemingly for no other reason than that some of them might one day be useful to her in her own life beyond politics.

Being fleet of foot in seeking to cash in on your power-trip isn’t confined merely to former UK premiers. Nicola Sturgeon has signed a very lucrative book deal while setting up a company that minimises her Scottish tax liabilities.

Gordon Brown, for the most part, has elected to forge a different path. During the Covid-19 pandemic, his was a lone voice on the international stage, calling for vaccine equality as it began to emerge that rich western countries were stockpiling mountains of the antidotes while the vaccination programmes in the developing world were proceeding at a glacial pace.

Last week, he initiated a campaign highlighting what he describes as the “national emergency” of family poverty. “Political attention is on the timing of the general election,” he said, “but millions of families face a more immediate challenge: simply surviving to the end of the week.

“From north to south a hidden poverty epidemic is spreading across the country. It is fast becoming a national emergency. This is the pandemic that no Minister ever mentions, a silent crisis striking thousands of children in bedless bedrooms, millions of parents in foodless kitchens, and dozens of communities in increasingly hopeless destitution.”

The Herald: Gordon BrownGordon Brown (Image: free)

Late last year, Mr Brown had told the distressing story of a father walking into a charity warehouse and dumping his teenage son, as he could no longer afford to keep him. He cited a report in The Lancet which said that poverty on its own – not neglect or chaotic family circumstances – was one of the main reasons for children being taken into care.

Mr Brown’s latest intervention echoes warnings made last year by the Child Poverty Action Group following the latest Scottish Government poverty statistics. These showed that after 16 years in power, the SNP had failed utterly in lifting our poorest children out of poverty. To use one of their pet locutions, the dial hasn’t moved one inch on addressing child poverty. More than 250,000 children, representing 24% or all children are now afflicted by it.

The charity’s research also found that child poverty costs the UK £39.5bn per year and that children remain at significantly higher risk of poverty than pensioners and working age adults.

A shift in public attitudes towards poverty has followed the abject inability of the political classes to do anything about it. It’s now more or less accepted and deemed unworthy of any special attention. When foodbanks began to become commonplace a decade or so ago there was widespread outrage and breast-beating of the “how can this be happening in affluent 21st century Britain” type. Now, they’re accepted as a permanent feature of the poverty sector, a sort of safety-net, safely out of sight, in which we can easily salve our conscience.

The Herald: Tony BlairTony Blair (Image: free)

Now they’ve diversified into warm banks. Amidst fuel poverty and the predations of the energy cartels these are those spaces which will have the heating turned on. Those lacking the means to heat their homes in darkest winter can go to these places: museums, libraries and assorted public service buildings. Charities are now actively directing those in deepest distress to these places.

Gordon Brown’s intervention on poverty comes as both Labour in Scotland and the SNP begin their UK General Election campaigns. Constitutional tribalism shouldn’t prevent any of us from embracing his message. Rather than insulting our intelligence by claiming that independence will make us all ten grand better off it might be time quietly and gently to drop the entire independence fraud. No one’s buying it any more.

He might also begin to cease pandering to the artisan radicals yelling at Starbucks employees from a safe distance over Palestine (their radicalism always proceeds at a safe distance). The public see this posturing for what it is: deflection from his party’s failure to improve the lives of Scotland’s poorest families.

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In the last few days Mhairi Black said that some MPs were only in it for a London jolly – at last echoing the thoughts of many voters, but failing to include herself in the SNP’s Westminster fine dining and wine club.

The SNP leadership have virtually destroyed any hope of independence happening for another decade at least. Rather than continuing to waste his time and ours, flogging this deadest of dead horses Mr Yousaf can put it to better use by embracing Gordon Brown’s anti-poverty initiative. Who knows; he might yet make improvements in an area of Scottish life where his predecessor abjectly failed.