The smile said it all. In the dusk of an early-autumn evening, Gordon Brown, Britain's dour finance minister, was for once looking like the cat that got the cream as he left an expletive-filled meeting at No10 Downing Street. Twelve years after making way for a young upstart by the name of Tony Blair to take the leadership of the Labour Party, and nine years into a successful government built in no small part on Mr Brown's handling of the economy, his burning ambition to become prime minister was finally within his grasp. The ill-tempered September 6 meeting with Mr Blair was the culmination of the his blackest week in office. He had returned from holiday to a party revolt that forced him to confirm he would resign within 12 months. The prime minister had been dealt a blow. Mr Brown's visit, it seemed, was the coup de grace. As the longest serving Labour chancellor of the exchequer, Mr Brown has presided over an unprecedented period of sustained economic growth and stable employment since 1997. Given a free hand by the prime minister, he has earned praise for granting the Bank of England independence to set interest rates, capping income tax and cutting corporate tax to encourage growth, and instigating a complex welfare system of refundable 'tax credits'. Less popular, however, has been an increase in national insurance contributions - widely regarded as a 'stealth tax' - to finance Britain's burgeoning public health service, and he controversially kept Britain out of the euro zone. But despite his record as a prudent keeper of finances, questions have been raised about Mr Brown's leadership. Amid accusations that Mr Brown was a 'delusional control freak' who cowardly plotted the recent party rebellion, former home secretary Charles Clarke reacted angrily to the chancellor's apparently smug demeanour as he left the meeting with Mr Blair. 'It gave the impression of satisfaction with what he had done. I think it was unfortunate,' Mr Clarke said, adding the chancellor was unfit to lead the country. 'We don't know what he thinks on a range of issues. What would his foreign policy look like? Will he pull troops out of Iraq? He is a perfectionist but that is a real danger in politics because perfection isn't there.' Mr Brown has indicated that his domestic policy would build on New Labour's public services reforms, which include cost-cutting such as wage freezes, reducing job redundancies and gradual privatisation, particularly in the health-care sector. Foreign policy is a grey area, but opinion polls show he is untainted by the unpopularity of the war in Iraq that has dogged Mr Blair. It is also unclear how far Britain's 'special relationship' with the US would be furthered under Mr Brown. The comments this week by Mr Clarke and other Blair loyalists are the clearest pointer yet that there will be no 'stable and orderly transition to power' as mapped out by a 1994 Blair-Brown deal. In the wake of then Labour leader John Smith's sudden death, the former friends agreed Mr Blair would lead the party unopposed in return for adopting the broadly socialist agenda demanded by Mr Brown. Power would then be handed over by Mr Blair on an unspecified date. That date is now widely tipped to be May 31 next year - much later than Mr Brown would have hoped with the next election looming in 2009 - and a direct transfer of power is all but ruled out due to his refusal to publicly admonish those calling on the prime minister to quit. What was to be a coronation is shaping up as a bitter contest. The chief beneficiary of Mr Blair's long swan song is Education and Skills Secretary Alan Johnson, who is regarded as the only serious threat to Mr Brown. A former postman and union official, the 56-year-old is everything that Mr Brown is not: affable, 'blokeish' and English. James Gordon Brown, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, was born in Glasgow in 1951. Raised in Kirkcaldy, on the east coast of Scotland, Mr Brown read history at Edinburgh University at just 16. After graduating with first-class honours, he lectured at the university then had a brief career in television journalism before being elected in 1983 as Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. Married to PR executive Sarah Macaulay and father of two children, Mr Brown divides his time between Westminster and his home in Fife, where he is a supporter of football side Raith Rovers. The prospect of Mr Brown becoming the first prime minister from a Scottish constituency since 1963 raises the so-called 'West Lothian Question', which asks why Scottish lawmakers in Westminster should be allowed to vote on bills affecting England while English lawmakers have no say in the devolved Scottish parliament formed in 1999. A recent poll found only a narrow majority of voters in England - 56 per cent - would be happy with a Scottish leader in Westminster, and 25 per cent said lawmakers from Scottish seats should be barred from standing for prime minister. Faced with the task of winning over an English electorate, Mr Brown has worked hard to play down his Scottish heritage. 'For all of my political life I have stood up for Britain and I stand here to speak up for Britain and Britishness and for the values that make us proud of our Britishness,' Mr Brown said in Edinburgh. But political commentator Alan Cochrane says stunts like supporting England in soccer's World Cup - while much of Scotland supported any team but the 'Auld Enemy' - are unconvincing. 'He is Scottish to his bootstraps. Born, bred and educated in Scotland, he is married to a Scot, made sure that his two children were born in Scotland, has a family home in Scotland and spends every bit of spare time he can in that home,' said Mr Cochrane. 'He may have invited the press to see him watching England in the World Cup but everyone knows his first love is in Kirkcaldy.' Age, too, plays a role. Now 55, Mr Brown's greatest challenge could come in 2009 when as a 58-year-old prime minister he would face the youthful guiding light of a resurgent Conservative Party - David Cameron, who is now 39. The bookmakers, however, see the 'Iron Chancellor' as the favourite, a view echoed by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, a candidate for deputy leadership under Mr Brown. 'Nobody should or could beat Gordon for party leader,' Mr Hain said. 'He's the twin architect of Labour's success.'