Brown's first Parliamentary outing took place in 1979.  He lost Edinburgh South to Michael Ancram by about two and a half thousand votes.  Although the seat was always close-fought, it had stayed Conservative even during Labour's 1966 landslide.  Brown would have known when selected that, after four years of Labour Government, it would most likely return a Tory – as it duly did.  He would have had more than half an eye on a safer seat next time round.

None the less, Brown took a risk in fighting Edinburgh South.  It turned out to be the last he'd take in elections for over 30 years.

After selection for Edinburgh South, but a year before the 1979 election, Brown considered standing down in Edinburgh and applying for the then Parliamentary by-election in Hamilton, but concluded that he might win neither the nomination nor the seat.  He didn't apply.  Labour won the by-election.

After not applying for Hamilton, he considered standing down in Edinburgh South and applying for the safe Labour seat of Leith in the north of the city.  He concluded that he might not win the nomination.  He didn't apply.  Labour won the seat at the general election.

In 1994, when Shadow Chancellor, he considered standing as Labour's leader.  He concluded that he might not win.  He didn't stand.  Tony Blair won the Labour leadership and three general elections.

In 2007, as Prime Minister, he considered calling a general election.  He concluded that he might not win.  He put the election off. His poll lead vanished.

The current election is therefore the first that Brown has fought in thirty years which wasn't sewn up in advance.  And he's only contesting it because he's boxed in – and has no alternative (other than putting it off for a few paltry weeks).

Brown's pathological fear of risk-taking is a big theme of Tom Bower, his most critical biographer – who provides plenty of further evidence.  Perhaps this "psychological flaw" (copyright: Alistair Campbell), helps explain why Brown wrote a book on, of all things, Courage.

Once before, Brown has had something which he believed to be his by right snatched away by a risk-taker – Blair, who couldn't have known when he sought Labour's leadership that he'll win it.

Once again, he faces an opponent who can also take risks – Cameron, who fought the 2005 Conservative leadership election as an outsider.

Since Brown can't control this week's election leaders' debate, he'll be locked away preparing with Mandelson, Campbell, Balls, and the rest of them – sweating over attack lines, defensive ploys, and perhaps even, heaven help us, jokes.  This presumably helps explain his remarkable absence from most of the first week's campaigning.

We don't know what will happen in the debates.  Nor in the election.  But for Brown, the last time he took a real political risk isn't an encouraging precedent.

Paul Goodman

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