24-hour news has cut politicians’ shelf life, says Gordon Brown

The age of 24-hour news has brought about the end of long political leaderships, the former prime minister Gordon Brown has said, estimating that a politician’s time at the top is now no more than six years.

Brown told the Hay literary festival in Wales that invasive modern media meant the public got sick of politicians more quickly.

“People have got a shelf life in politics,” he said. “You’ve probably got about six years at the top of politics and that’s about it. People get bored, they get fed up with you, they’ve had enough, they’ve seen it all before.

“You can’t have long political careers like Gladstone and Disraeli had in the 19th century. You’ve got to accept that sometimes your time has passed and you’ve got to be modest enough to accept you’ve had your chance.

“There will be no 12 years of Mrs Thatcher again, there’ll be no 10 years of any other prime minister again because of the 24-hour nature of news … people get bored very quickly with the personalities.”

Did he mean Tony Blair? Peter Florence, the director of the festival, who was questioning Brown, joked that Brown could say his name. “He’s not Voldemort,” Brown replied, not convincingly. “I was actually thinking of Angela Merkel.”

Brown spent a lot of the session talking about Brexit and the path the UK should be on, and said he would play his part in trying to influence the debate.

But he would not be in any position of leadership. “I am not going to try to thrust myself back on to the political stage.”

He said the UK government had to address the issues that led to the Brexit vote before any second referendum could be won. And those issues could be tackled and were soluble, he said.

“I personally believe that we will be in Europe, whether it is back in Europe or in Europe, in the next few years. I believe that we can win the argument, but we can’t win the argument without dealing with the issues.”

Brown said his main focus at present was charity work on the refugee crisis with the UN.

He said his message was one of hope. “This is a dark world. We have Russia, we have the Middle East, what’s happening in Syria … we have a trade war between China and America. We have 40 conflicts, 20 million refugees, 60 million displaced people. But we cannot give up hope for a better world.”

Brown was one of the final speakers at this year’s Hay, an 11-day event that is always eclectic and that this year has had speakers exploring everything from beekeeping to Ebola.

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