Leadership succession is never easy in British party politics, particularly if the outgoing leader is an incumbent prime minister. When Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as prime minister in April 1955, he had been waiting in the wings as leader-designate for almost a decade. Within two years he was forced to resign because of his inept handling of the Suez crisis. Jim Callaghan, who unexpectedly succeeded Harold Wilson in 1976, managed to survive until 1979, but his premiership was plagued by successive economic crises and backbench rebellions that were especially difficult to manage, given Labour's small parliamentary majority. John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher in November 1990. Against almost all expectations given the grim state of the national economy, Major took his party to a narrow victory in the 1992 general election. However, his subsequent tenure as prime minister was a tortuous one, punctuated by a major economic crisis within months of his election victory (the Exchange Rate Mechanism fiasco of September 1992) and a series of backbench rebellions that sought to take advantage, as with Callaghan, of the prime minister's small Commons majority.
When Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair on 27 June 2007, he appeared to be in a very different position from those of his postwar counterparts. Like Eden, he had been waiting expectantly for over a decade for his predecessor to make way. However, unlike Eden, Brown was not faced with the sort of major challenge to Britain's global role that was occasioned by the demands for political independence that were sweeping through Britain's current and former colonies in the 1950s. And, unlike Callaghan and Major, Brown was not taking over in conditions of economic crisis. When he became prime minister, Britain had enjoyed a 15-year period of uninterrupted good times – since 1993 the annual GDP growth rate had not fallen below 2 per cent. Unlike Major, Brown was elected unopposed as party leader, and by implication as prime minister. As Chancellor of the Exchequer since New Labour's initial victory in 1997, he had overseen the extended period of prosperity that preceded his premiership and as a result had established a reputation for highly competent economic management. He had consolidated this reputation by his dour rhetorical claims, widely believed at the time, that his budgets were invariably models of fiscal prudence.