THE second most powerful man in Britain is James Brown. Not James Brown the Godfather of Soul, but James Gordon Brown the Prince of Prudence.

In contrast to his flamboyant musical namesake, the Chancellor has an image as a dour tee-total Scot. Indeed, he was born a ‘son of the Manse'. His father, the Reverend John Brown, was a Presbyterian Minister in the shipbuilding community of Govan, before moving to Kirkcaldy on the Fife coast.

But the public image of the Iron Chancellor is very different from the private man.
When a small group of MPs, including myself, met with him earlier this week, he was the life and soul of the group telling witty anecdotes and cracking jokes.

But he was also passionate, talking about his real commitment to bringing down Third World debt. He told us how the globalisation of the world's economy could bring many opportunities for people, but that it must not be allowed to widen the gap between the richest and poorest nations of the world.

It was an impressively broad vision of what politics should be about, from a man who (if you believed the London media) spends all his time brooding about his desire to occupy No. 10 Downing Street.

His conviction politics are undoubtedly influenced by his background. As the son of a minister, he got used to people coming to see his father with their problems, and developed a keen sense of social justice.

At the age 13, he got involved in a famous Scottish by-election when Alec Douglas-Home gave up gave up his hereditary peerage to become Conservative Prime Minister in 1963.

Brown attended an election meeting where Douglas-Home was asked the routine question: ‘Will you buy a House in the constituency if you win?'. ‘No', replied the former fourteenth earl, ‘I have too many houses already.'

The teenage Gordon Brown was appalled, and threw himself into politics. But he was no anorak.
His other great passion was sport. A county champion quarter-miler, he made an excellent wing three-quarter on the rugby field. It was a passion which cost him the sight of his left eye, after an incident in an old boys match at Kirkcaldy High School.

He was also an outstanding student. He went to university at sixteen. He was elected as Rector of Edinburgh University aged 21, and to the House of Commons aged 33.

When he arrived at the Commons, James Gordon Brown was famously allocated a tiny windowless office which he shared with another new member, one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair ‘Tony' Blair. A political partnership was born.

Just before Christmas I sat with Gordon in the House of Commons tearoom where he spoke in an animated way about his joy at impending fatherhood. Perhaps the tragedy that followed has given even more depth to his deep compassion and sense of social justice.

Through his successful economic management and redistributive policies, Gordon Brown has made sure that there are more opportunities for working people. At a time when there is so much talk about spin in politics, the Chancellor is a genuine heavyweight; a political pugilist who occasionally feints with the right, but always delivers with the left.