History > 2009 > UK > Politics > Prime Minister - PM (I)
June 7 2009
The Sunday Times
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Labour must not bow out,
but fight to win
Prime minister tells delegates at Labour conference
the only consistent thing about the Conservatives
is that they are consistently
Tuesday 29 September 2009
Deborah Summers, politics editor
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk at 17.11 BST
on Tuesday 29
It was last updated at 17.26 BST
on Tuesday 29 September 2009.
Gordon Brown today vowed to fight and win the next general
election as he unveiled a blueprint for the Labour manifesto designed to win
back anxious middle Britain voters.
In a determined 59-minute speech to the party's autumn conference in Brighton,
the prime minister said the Conservatives had faced the "economic call of the
century" and had called it wrong.
And he urged Labour activists to "fight, not bow out, fight to win".
With a general election less than nine months away, Brown outlined the party's
priorities on issues such as antisocial behaviour, jobs, healthcare, childcare,
the economy, and parliamentary reform.
In a glimpse at the choices Labour will seek to offer voters, Brown pledged to:
• Provide 250,000 free childcare places for two-year-olds.
• Delay the introduction of compulsory ID cards for British citizens.
• Provide a network of supervised homes for 16- and 17-year-old parents.
• Create up to 10,000 green job placements.
• Protect the schools budget.
• Hold a referendum on the alternative vote electoral system after the election.
• Remove hereditary peers in the House of Lords "once and for all", in the next
• Give constituents the right to remove corrupt MPs.
• Increase the role of post offices in providing financial services.
"It was only a year ago that the world was looking over a precipice and Britain
was in danger," Brown said.
"I knew that unless I acted decisively and immediately, the recession could
descend into a great depression with millions of people's jobs and homes and
savings at risk … And times of great challenge mean choices of great
"Only one party with pretensions to government made the wrong choice: the
Conservative party of Britain," Brown told delegates.
"They made the wrong choice on Northern Rock, the wrong choice on jobs and
spending, the wrong choice on mortgage support, the wrong choice on working with
Gordon and Sarah Brown before the PM's speech today. Photograph: Stefan
"The only thing about their policy that is consistent is that they are
consistently wrong. The opposition might think the test of a party is the
quality of its marketing but I say the test for a government is the quality of
"The Conservative party were faced with the economic call of the century and
they called it wrong. And I say a party that makes the wrong choices on the most
critical decisions it would have faced in government, should not be given the
chance to be in government."
For the second year running, Sarah Brown gave a heartfelt introduction to her
"hero" husband on the conference stage.
"I know a lot about my husband; we've been married for nine years now. We've had
some great times and we will be together for all times," she said.
"Because we've been together for so long, I know he's not a saint – he's messy,
he's noisy – but I know he goes to bed every night and he gets up every morning
thinking about the things that matter."
Sarah Brown said she had always been struck by how someone so intense would make
time for family, friends and everyone who knows him.
"That's why I love him as much as I do. That's what makes him the man for
Admitting her husband had a "tough job", she said she wouldn't want it for the
world, but added: "Every day I'm glad he's the one up there doing the job."
In his speech, the prime minister vowed to help create new opportunities for
young people. He announced a new partnership with the Federation of Small
Businesses to encourage ambition and enterprise and pledged a joint effort with
the Eden Project, the environmental exhibition centre in Cornwall, and May Day
Network, the business anti-climate change group, to "create the biggest group of
green work placements we have ever done – up to 10,000 green jobs placements".
Conceding once again that public spending would have to be reined in, Brown said
the government would raise tax "at the very top, cut costs … and make savings
where we know we can" to protect frontline services.
Brown pledged more tough action on antisocial behaviour with local authorities
given the power to ban 24-hour drinking.
On immigration, the prime minister said Britain's point-based system would be
tightened to welcome only those who had the skills the country needed.
Brown also reiterated his pledge not to introduce compulsory ID cards for
British citizens in the next parliament.
Delegates cheered as he praised the work of the British armed forces, claiming
they "truly are the finest in the world" and he promised to ensure they would
always have all the equipment they needed.
Britain would work with Barack Obama to ensure peace and stability in
Afghanistan and the Middle East, he said.
Brown heaped praise on the work of the National Health Service and said Labour's
general election manifesto would promise social care for all to ensure dignity
and support in old age.
On MPs' expenses, the prime minister admitted that, although the vast majority
of Labour MPs were in parliament to serve the public, "there are some who let
our country down".
"Just as I have said that the market needs morals I also say that politics needs
morals too," he said.
"So where there is proven financial corruption by an MP and in cases where
wrongdoing has been demonstrated but parliament fails to act we will give
constituents the right to recall their member of parliament."
In a move that was immediately welcomed by business groups and trade unions,
which have been campaigning for a People's Bank to help secure the future of the
UK's 12,000 post offices, Brown announced a bigger role for post offices in
providing financial services.
In an attempt to rally Labour activists in what will be his last conference
speech before the next general election – which must be held before 3 June next
year – Brown warned that a Conservative government would put the country's
prosperity at risk.
"It's the difference between Conservatives who embrace pessimism and austerity
and progressives like Labour who embrace prosperity and hope," he said.
"Since 1998, Labour has given this country back its future. And we are not done
"We love this country and we have shown over the years that if you aim high you
can lift not just yourself but your country. There is nothing in life which is
inevitable – it's about change you can choose."
Union leaders warmly welcomed the speech, saying he had drawn some "clear red
lines" between Labour and the Conservatives.
Tony Woodley, the joint leader of Unite, said: "The prime minister spoke of the
values that are true to Labour."
Dave Prentis, the leader of Unison, said: "This was fighting talk – tough talk
with real substance. We particularly welcomed the announcement on care for the
elderly and making the bankers pay back the money."
But David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce,
warned: "As we emerge from the worst recession since the second world war,
businesses must be given the freedom to create much-needed wealth and jobs.
Business must not be caught up in the rush to regulate the excesses of the
Gordon Brown: Labour must not bow out, but
fight to win, G, 29.9.2009,
Gordon Brown's role in release of Megrahi revealed
PM did not want man convicted of Lockerbie bomb to die in
jail, Libya told
Wednesday 2 September 2009
Severin Carrell and Nicholas Watt
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 01.56 BST on Wednesday 2
It appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday 2 September 2009 on p1 of the Top
It was last updated at 02.10 BST on Wednesday 2 September 2009.
Gordon Brown and David Miliband were last night drawn directly
into the furore over the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing
when it emerged that Britain told Tripoli that the prime minister and foreign
secretary did not want to see him die in prison.
In a major setback for Downing Street, which has insisted the release was
entirely a matter for Edinburgh, it emerged that a Foreign Office minister
intervened last February to make clear to Libya that Brown and Miliband hoped
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi would not "pass away" in prison.
Amid warnings from Tripoli that allowing Megrahi to die in prison would amount
to a "death sentence", Bill Rammell, then a Foreign Office minister, passed the
message to Abdulati Alobidi, Libya's Europe minister, during a meeting in
His intervention was revealed yesterday in a note of a meeting which took place
in Glasgow in March between Scottish officials and Alobidi. The note disclosed
that the Libyan minister had said: "Mr Rammell had stated that neither the prime
minister nor the foreign secretary would want Mr Megrahi to pass away in prison
but the decision on transfer lies in the hands of Scottish ministers."
The disclosure that the prime minister had expressed a view on the release of
Megrahi, which emerged when the British and Scottish governments released a
series of documents relating to the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber,
will be a severe blow to Brown. The prime minister has insisted that the British
government had no involvement in the release of Megrahi, who was sent home on
compassionate grounds by the Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, last
In a sign of ministerial unease, it took Rammell almost two hours yesterday
afternoon to respond to the publication of his reported remarks. Rammell, now a
defence minister, made no attempt to deny his intervention when he released a
brief statement which reiterated the British position that Megrahi's status was
a matter for the Scottish authorities.
"Neither the Libyans nor the Scottish executive were left in any doubt
throughout this entire process that this was a decision for the Scottish
executive over which the UK government sought no influence," Rammell said. "I
made it clear in all my dealings with the Libyans that the decision around
Megrahi was exclusively one for the Scottish executive."
Later Rammell told the BBC he had conveyed Brown's feelings to the Libyans: "I
did say that. But we need to put it in context. I was making it emphatically
clear that this was a decision for Scottish ministers."
The documents also show Libya promised Megrahi would receive a low key
homecoming. Scottish government notes of a meeting with Alobidi said: "Mr
Alobidi said he would like to take this opportunity to assure the Scottish
government that if Mr al-Megrahi were to be transferred to Libya that it would
be done quietly and peacefully and away from the glare of the media. He noted
that he understood such a transfer would need to be treated sensitively."
David Cameron last night seized on Rammell's intervention to demand a public
inquiry into the release of Megrahi, claiming that Brown now stands accused of
double dealing. He said: "For weeks [Brown] has been refusing to say publicly
what he wanted to happen to Megrahi. Yet we learn, apparently, privately the
message was being given to the Libyans that he should be released.
"I don't think we can now trust the government to get to the bottom of this so I
think the time has come for an independent inquiry led by a former permanent
secretary or former judge to find out what more papers need to be released so we
can see what the British government was doing in our name."
The release of such a sensitive document by the Scottish government was designed
to turn the spotlight on Brown as the SNP deals with the greatest crisis since
it took power in Edinburgh in 2007.
The SNP is expected to lose a vote today on the Megrahi release in the Scottish
parliament as Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats – emboldened by the US
opposition to the release – mount their most serious challenge to the Scottish
first minister, Alex Salmond. Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster,
said: "With the report of Bill Rammell's claim that neither Gordon Brown nor
David Miliband wanted Megrahi to die in a Scottish jail, it seems the UK
government were bending over backwards to show Libya they had no objection to
Megrahi's release – which drives a coach and horses through Labour's position in
The documents show Libya placed intense pressure on London and Edinburgh to
release Megrahi. At one point Alobidi warned: "Death in custody would be akin to
a death sentence without the benefit of the court and that 'they want a way
No comment was forthcoming on the publication of the exchanges between the
British and Scottish governments, a further sign Libya wants to draw a line
under the controversy. Megrahi's health, meanwhile, is said to be deteriorating
fast. The head of Libya's state information agency, Majid al-Dursi, described
him as "very sick".
The papers released yesterday reveal that Scottish ministers were secretly told
by the Libyans in January – far earlier than previously thought – that Megrahi
might drop his appeal, which threatened to reveal damaging information about the
police investigation into the bombing.
Megrahi dropped his appeal two days before MacAskill announced he would be
freed, claiming he believed it would assist his release – a disclosure which has
raised suspicions of a deal between Scottish and Libyan ministers. Those claims
have been repeatedly denied by Scottish ministers.
Gordon Brown's role
in release of Megrahi revealed, G, 1.9.2009,
PM signals end to Taliban offensive
Monday, 27 July 2009
Gordon Brown today signalled the end of the bloody offensive
to drive back the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister insisted that Operation Panther's Claw had
not been "in vain", despite the deaths of 20 British troops over the past month.
"The efforts of our troops in Helmand have been nothing short of heroic," Mr
Brown told the Evening Standard. "There has been a tragic human cost. But this
has not been in vain."
Mr Brown said it was now time to "commemorate" the British
troops who have died in Afghanistan.
Twenty British personnel have been killed this month alone in
Afghanistan - with 189 having died since the start of operations eight years
During a constituency visit in Fife today, the Prime Minister said it has been
"one of the most difficult summers" since troops went into Afghanistan.
He said: "Now that Operation Panther's Claw has shown that it can bring success
and the first phase of that operation is over, it's time to commemorate all
those soldiers who have given their lives and to thank all our British forces
for the determination and professionalism and courage that they've shown.
"What we have actually done is make land secure for about 100,000 people.
"What we've done is push back the Taliban - and what we've done also is to start
to break that chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and
Pakistan to the streets of Britain.
"And I'm very proud of what our forces have achieved over the last few weeks -
indeed for all the time they've been in Afghanistan."
He also echoed Foreign Secretary David Miliband's call earlier today for talks
with more moderate Taliban elements.
Mr Brown said: "Our strategy has always been to complement the military action
that we've got to take to clear the Taliban, to threaten al Qaida in its bases -
while at the same time we put in more money to build the Afghan forces, the
troops, the police.
"We build up the institutions in society in Afghanistan so there's strong local
"We help give people a stake in the future of Afghanistan and at the same time
we try to bring over those elements that can now work with the democratic
"So, it's part of a strategy that involves Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.
"It's a civilian and military strategy and that's the way we will succeed in the
long run - by letting the Afghan people take more control of their own affairs
by building up their army and building up their police."
The first stage of the operation in the troubled southern
province drew to a close as senior ministers urged the stepping up of efforts to
engage moderate Taliban elements.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the insurgency was
"divided", with many of those fighting against international forces doing so for
"pragmatic" rather than ideological reasons.
International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander admitted there were
concerns about holding talks while fierce combat was taking place.
"It is a difficult message for politicians to talk about the issues of
reconciliation and reintegration when British troops are fighting the Taliban,"
he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"But I have confidence in the good judgment of the British people. I think
people recognise from the experience of places like Northern Ireland that it is
necessary to put military pressure on the Taliban while at the same time holding
out the prospect that there can be a political process that can follow, whereby
those that are willing to renunciate (sic) violence can follow a different
Downing Street stressed that the Government had not changed its position, and
would only deal with Taliban elements who were willing to "renounce violence".
PM signals end to
Taliban offensive, I, 27.7.2009,
Gordon Brown: The flawed colossus
In his pursuit of power, Gordon Brown has mistaken arrogance
for forcefulness, riding roughshod over his opponents. And even as Labour
collapses, his defiant 'I will not walk away’ has undertones of King Lear, says
Published: 9:00AM BST 07 Jun 2009
The Daily Telegraph
The moment of truth came on Thursday night, when a small but
precisely aimed bombshell hit No 10 Downing Street. James Purnell, the charmed
Blairite, entrusted by Gordon Brown with one of his central objectives, of
welfare reform, was leaving Cabinet, because he did not think Mr Brown could
improve Labour’s poor standing. For the sake of the party “which we both love”,
he urged him to stand aside.
Mr Brown’s fury was brief when the call came, his response instant: “I am not
going to let them get me out like this.”
Thus began “Operation Save Gordon”, a frantic night of shoring up allegiances
and flushing out suspected doubters, culminating in a shotgun reshuffle to
salvage his flailing authority.
It has been the climax of a brewing drama around the leadership of a man who
both attracts and magnifies misfortunes, and keeps battling against them with
Now he resembles a political King Lear, a once towering figure on the blighted
Labour landscape, the storms of the expenses crisis and economic turbulence
howling around him, a dissolving retinue and senior figures coldly naming their
terms for continuing to stay with him.
Mr Brown sometimes makes changes, but he never really alters. His strengths and
flaws are too firmly set. He says so himself with the aggrandising references to
“my inner core”, those Scottish “values” and the ever-present “moral compass”.
This is the kind of leader he wants to be: not flash, just Gordon, as the slogan
for the abortive election campaign of two years ago was planned to proclaim. He
might smile more (though not much right now) or seek to sound more relaxed, with
varying degrees of success. “Did you ever hear anyone sound as strained being
relaxed as Gordon?” asks one former aide.
Still, there is something distinct about him: an aura of Labour grandeur which
harks back to the immediate post-war era of titanic characters and mighty egos
seeking to build a new Jerusalem in postwar Britain.
Steeped in the party’s history in a way that his rival Tony Blair never was,
Gordon Brown believes in the stories of great men, and a couple of approved
women – Aung San Suu Kyi is a current favourite – shaping the destiny of their
countries. From boyhood, he set out to be one of them: dreaming of running
Labour in his teens, in the way that most of his Kirkaldy schoolmates dreamt of
playing football for Scotland or topping the charts.
One reason that Mr Brown’s fall fascinates even those who dislike him intensely
is that he has a quality of flawed grandeur which Shakespeare would have
recognised. If he were a less serious figure, it would all matter less, this
ungainly struggle to ward off decline. It’s also the unwinding of a personal
quest, which begins before New Labour: a feisty new MP setting his mark on the
Commons under Thatcher, fighting over privatisations and condemning her
stringent approach to social security benefits. Tempora mutantur: he’s now doing
“Blair was mammothly dazzled by Brown’s power,” recalls Lord Falconer, Blair’s
close friend, of their early
co-operation. “I don’t think he thought he’d be leader of the party. Brown was
the obvious man.”
Being the “obvious man” marked out his career – but also increased the
bitterness when the ascendancy of Blair made him wait too long for the prize.
“He got it too late,” adds one Cabinet wife close to him. “That’s something he
It’s also the reason he hangs on so grimly to the job: something he has aspired
to in Parliament for two-and-a-half decades is not, to his mind, to be snatched
away in a rictus of panic or a back-stab from some slick young thing in
But the air of failure and dissolution now hangs heavy over Mr Brown’s
leadership. When Peter Mandelson said of Purnell’s departure, that he just
“didn’t like the face of the man at the top”, it was rather too telling to be an
excuse: Mr Brown, even freed from the dominance of his old frenemy Tony, has
never won the hearts of the electorate or colleagues outside his own band of
It’s the running theme in criticism of colleagues from Alastair Campbell’s
“psychological flaws” observation to Charles Clarke’s broadside to me two years
ago about his “absolutely stupid behaviour” and need to address his character
So many conflicts go back to Mr Brown’s personal behaviour. Lord Turnbull, who
worked at the Treasury with him as Permanent Secretary, broke with the Whitehall
omerta to accuse him of “Stalinist ruthlessness” and treating ministers “with
In his pursuit of absolute power, he has mistaken arrogance for forcefulness:
riding roughshod over ministers who opposed him, drawing dividing lines in his
own party as well as with the Opposition. “You were just with him or against him
and the decision was final,” says one (sacked) minister.
There has been, although he would hate the thought, a rich vein of comedy here,
too. Everyone has their favourite Gordon joke. Mine is the one about him being
told by his staff that he needed to sound more personal when calling
backbenchers to elicit their support, and then saying to one: “How’s it going in
the constituency, and how are your two children, aged seven and nine?”
Apocryphal, Brownites will surely object, but the grain of truth is
unmistakable: Mr Brown is myopic about the private worlds of others.
Derek Draper, who worked for him in the final haul of Opposition in the mid-
Nineties, told me of his boss getting ready for an important dinner, and raging
about some undone task in a volley of swear words – while wandering about in
shirt and underpants because he couldn’t find his trousers, and had forgotten
that he was looking for them at all.
Stories of “bad Gordon” – the rages, the feuds, the obsessions, would fill a
book – and already have. But he also retains so many of the great gifts: a
strong intellect, astounding memory and interest in the “big picture”.
Hence the abiding interest in global poverty and his conversion to the cause of
climate change – and an intense, even impolite frustration with those who don’t
“get” the importance of the weft and weave of global affairs and their ultimate
impact on our lives.
He’s a more interesting conversationalist than many would credit, if not the
greatest listener: you have to fight jolly hard for airtime. He can range across
American politics (encyclopedic on any major Democrat figure and the Great
Depression), sport and philosophy and has a prodigious memory for the past
struggles and stories of his own party.
Talking to him once about the miners’ strike, I was struck at the way the
characters of that era were still so alive in his mind and that he seemed
steeped in the continuities of Labour, in a way that few politicians today carry
much awareness of a time before the very recent past.
What kind of Britain did he set out to create? A more equal one, certainly,
hence his lasting emphasis on redistribution. But he has made limited gains
here, in part because closing the equality gap is much harder than those who try
to do so imagine – the pull of differential progress and the uneven rewards of
advanced capitalism are against them. Too often, he fails to match his goals of
greater opportunity and social improvement with innovative enough means and is
slow to accept new thinking – the major frustration of New Labour modernisers.
The Laura Spence case, in which he singled out the admissions saga of one
student to “prove” Oxford discriminated against applicants from ordinary
backgrounds, was a low point. It’s an intervention he still defends, though most
thinking ministers shudder at the memory of this mini class-war.
His personal story, from serious son of the manse to precociously brilliant
student, even after a debilitating injury leaving him blind in one eye, is well
known. But he remains a figure people find difficult to understand.
He has had his share of terrible misfortune, with the death of his first child,
Jennifer, days after her birth.
The chronic illness of his second son, Fraser, seemed like an unnecessarily
cruel blow of fate, though he and Sarah cope with equanimity with the condition
and its demands and he is determined not to define the child by his illness.
He once gave me a very fond, Gordonish description of watching one of his babies
at play and noticing that they distinguished between square and round objects:
an intriguing observation on infant development, but it’s not exactly common-or-
garden paternal chat. As a young man, he was devastatingly handsome: the
brooding intensity has sex appeal and he made some use of it, with a string of
girlfriends, before Sarah Macaulay finally brought him to the altar: a PR wife
for a politician who desperately needed his image burnishing. “She was manna
from heaven really,” says one of his court.
No one doubts the strength of the relationship. It’s an asset Mrs Brown shrewdly
played on when she introduced “My husband, your Prime Minister” in order to
rebind the already fraying ties of the party to its leader at last year’s Labour
But even Mrs Brown, with her widening network of causes and international
contacts, ranging from Naomi Campbell to Michelle Obama and Paris Hilton, seems
to be quietly preparing for a life after No 10.
Hardly anyone, except perhaps Brown himself, thinks the next election is
winnable, but he does believe he can avert a wipe-out, because his faith in his
own judgment of an economic revival is unshaken – and he is convinced that he
can burst the Cameron bubble, though that also goes with underestimating the
force of the New Tories.
Blairites used to say Brown would “hate being Prime Minister”, with its constant
demands, lack of thinking time and endless procession of visitors. How wrong can
you be? He even warms nowadays to the flummery of state visits like the glitzy
Sarkozy fest and his piece de resistance, the G20 meeting.
A good part of his downfall is written in the unforgiving stars of the political
and economic cycle. But he does bear heavy responsibility for failing to prepare
for the downturn and believing his own propaganda of “unprecedented” British
growth. Self-criticism is not his thing. Other squanderings of capital have been
foolish misjudgments: one ministerial critic notes that for a man so steeped in
politics, he can be “a bloody awful politician”. So the 10p tax row, intended to
reposition him as a champion of middle-class earners, ended up affecting
millions on low pay and causing a revolt.
He gambled, too, on the 42-day terror detention Bill, without probably even
believing it was necessary, in an attempt to be the “Security Prime Minister”.
That backfired. The expenses backlash is worse for him, not only because he is
ultimately in charge, but because he had ample opportunity to be more serious
about the matter and thought it beneath his interest.
Like the bullish former Tory leader Michael Howard, a more similar character to
Mr Brown than either would care to think, he makes an unpopular populist,
because it is a role that is alien to him and he cannot really master. The
YouTube pratfall was the performance of a man who did not really enjoy or feel
at home with what he was doing.
On Friday, at his “I’m still here” press conference, a little humility at the
dreadful election result soon gave way to irritation with journalists’ questions
he did not like. The defiant “I will not waver, I will not walk away” headline
was intended to invoke command, but for those watching, it also had an undertone
of Lear’s “I am tied to the stake and must stand the course”.
He really does believe that he has vanquished his challengers, who are divided
and scattered, though the cost to his reputation and that of his Government is
deep and maybe impossible to redress.
Shortly afterwards, however, a leading member of the Cameron team called and
noted that he had found the fightback “Gordon’s best moment”: “He just has this
solid, ox-like thing about him.You have to admire it.”
“Is this the promised end?” cries Lear in his final torment. It’s a feeling Mr
Brown must privately share. So much promise, so close to a bitter end and
fighting a battle he is doomed to lose: Labour’s flawed Colossus.
Anne McElvoy also writes for the 'London Evening Standard’
Gordon Brown: The
flawed colossus, DTel, 7.6.2009,
We fight on, insists Gordon Brown after day of
June 6, 2009
From The Times
Philip Webster, Political Editor
Gordon Brown survived to fight another day as he used a
Cabinet reshuffle yesterday to bolster his battered authority while waiting for
the full scale of Labour’s election losses to sink in.
The Prime Minister was left vulnerable after suffering another savage attack
from a departing minister and then failing to install his ally Ed Balls as
He shored up his power base by making Lord Mandelson, his former enemy whom he
brought back less than a year ago, his deputy in all but name, giving him the
official title of First Secretary of State. Other Blairites, Tessa Jowell and
Lord Adonis, were brought into the Cabinet. Mr Brown switched Alan Johnson, his
potential rival, to the Home Office, a traditional graveyard for ministers.
But Lord Mandelson appeared to acknowledge the fragility of Mr Brown’s position
when he warned Labour MPs against continuing their attempt to unseat him. In an
interview with The Times, he told the plotters that, if Mr Brown went, there
would have to be a Labour leadership election, swiftly followed by a general
election, which most of them fear.
He said: “Another leader couldn’t simply mean another coronation; you would have
to have a leadership contest. A picture would be presented to the country that
is entirely selfindulgent. A general election shortly afterwards would be
As Labour suffered its worst local election results and awaited the declaration
of the European poll tomorrow, Mr Brown and his allies braced themselves for a
meeting of Labour MPs on Monday. There they will discover whether the threat
posed to the leadership by a group of disgruntled MPs, has been seen off.
Two more Cabinet ministers resigned, Geoff Hoon and John Hutton, the latter
having warned Mr Brown weeks ago of his intentions. Neither criticised Mr Brown
as James Purnell had the previous evening, although Mr Hutton is known to take a
pessimistic view of Labour’s prospects. In a surprise move, Mr Brown brought
Glenys Kinnock, wife of the former Labour leader, into the Cabinet as Europe
Minister. This was after Caroline Flint, who 24 hours earlier had pledged
loyalty to Mr Brown, walked out, accusing him of treating her and other women
ministers as “little more than female window dressing”.
Alistair Darling, who had been expected to move from the Treasury, kept his job.
Mr Brown, backed by Lord Mandelson, had been planning to put Mr Balls into that
post. But in the febrile situation created by Mr Purnell’s resignation, Mr Brown
decided he could not force out a Chancellor who wanted to stay. In a press
conference after his reshuffle, Mr Brown declared: “I will not waver, I will not
walk away, I will get on with the job.”
He was pressed into denying that he had wanted to sack Mr Darling. He insisted:
“If I didn’t think I was the right person leading the right team . . . I would
not be standing here.”
A tired and nervous Mr Brown admitted Labour had plunged to “a painful defeat”
in the elections and said that the current political crisis, fuelled by the
Westminster expenses scandal, “is a test of everyone’s nerve – mine, the
Government’s the country’s”.
Mr Johnson admitted he had not given up hope of replacing Mr Brown by declaring
he was backing the Prime Minister “to the hilt” but he would “never say never”
to running for No 10. Ominously for Mr Brown, more MPs called for him to quit.
The former minister Meg Munn said: “I am very sad to say that I have come to the
view that I think we should have a different leader now.”
In the local elections Labour lost control of its four remaining county councils
in England – Derbyshire, Lancashire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. The
Prime Minister also now faces an unwelcome by-election test after Ian Gibson,
the Norwich North MP caught up in the expenses scandal, announced he was
standing down as an MP.
We fight on, insists
Gordon Brown after day of political blows, 6.5.2009, Ts,
Gordon Brown's new cabinet
The list released by Downing Street, showing Peter Mandelson
in the newly created role of first secretary of state
Friday 5 June 2009
Staff and agencies
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 17.39 BST on Friday 5 June
It was last updated at 17.49 BST on Friday 5 June 2009
Prime minister: Gordon Brown
Leader of the Commons: Harriet Harman
First secretary of state: Lord Mandelson
Chancellor of the exchequer: Alistair Darling
Foreign secretary: David Miliband
Justice secretary: Jack Straw
Home secretary: Alan Johnson
Environment, food and rural affairs secretary: Hilary Benn
International development secretary: Douglas Alexander
Communities and local government secretary: John Denham
Children, schools and families secretary: Ed Balls
Energy and climate change secretary: Ed Miliband
Health secretary: Andy Burnham
Northern Ireland secretary: Shaun Woodward
Leader of the Lords: Lord Royall of Blaisdon
Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Olympics and paymaster general: Tessa
Scotland secretary: Jim Murphy
Work and pensions secretary: Yvette Cooper
Chief secretary to the Treasury: Liam Byrne
Wales secretary: Peter Hain
Defence secretary: Bob Ainsworth
Transport secretary: Lord Adonis
Culture, media and sport secretary: Ben Bradshaw
Gordon Brown's new
cabinet, G, 5.6.2009,
Brown: I should have done more to prevent bank crisis
PM accepts 'full responsibility' and declares pure free-market
era is over
Tuesday 17 March 2009
Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT on Tuesday 17
It appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday 17 March 2009 on p1 of the Top stories
It was last updated at 02.53 GMT on Tuesday 17 March 2009.
Gordon Brown attempts to launch a political fightback today by
declaring that he takes "full responsibility" for his role in the banking
failures that led to the global recession, and claims that the downturn marks
the end of the era of laissez-faire government.
In an interview with the Guardian, the prime minister concedes that in
retrospect he wishes he had mounted a popular campaign 10 years ago to demand
more responsible regulation of the world's financial markets. He attempts to
draw a line under calls for him to make an apology by admitting that the
national system of regulation he helped establish in 1997 could not keep pace
with the massive global financial flows.
In some of his most extensive comments on his role in the recession, Brown said:
"I take full responsibility for all my actions, but I think we're dealing with a
bigger problem that is global in nature, as well as national. Perhaps 10 years
ago after the Asian crisis when other countries thought these problems would go
away, we should have been tougher ... keeping and forcing these issues on to the
agenda like we did on debt relief and other issues of international policy."
Brown spoke at the start of a major Guardian series on Labour's future. David
Cameron, the Conservative leader, has exploited the prime minister's reluctance
to make an apology, a tactic which has helped give him a double-digit lead in
Brown's remarks will, he hopes, give the party a launchpad to retaliate,
insisting that it "is essential for the sake of the country" that Labour wins a
fourth term at the next general election, likely to be held next year.
He argues that "only progressive, centre-left governments can address the
problems of the global change".
Brown also claims that "the 40-year-old prevalent orthodoxy known as the
Washington consensus in favour of free markets has come to an end", but signals
a refusal to return to Labour's comfort zone by saying there will be no return
to "big government", or any let up in public service reform.
"Laissez-faire has had its day. People on the centre-left and the progressive
agenda should be confident enough to say that the old idea that the markets were
efficient and could work things out by themselves are gone", he says.
The Guardian has learned that ministers have separately conceded that the
government is now unlikely to go ahead with a planned spending review this
summer, partly because the economic outlook is so unstable that it is hard to
make meaningful three-year spending forecasts department by department in
During the interview, Brown:
• Refuses to rule out a further British economic stimulus in the April budget.
He promises extra help for hard-pressed savers and says ministers are looking at
offloading further public assets in the budget in a bid to balance the books.
• Defends reforms to the part privatisation of the Royal Mail, saying it is
right to find an international investor to help with new international
• Insists the G20 summit in London on 2 April will determine whether the world
collapses into protectionism. This, he says, would be "the road to ruin",
parallel to the failed London economic conference in 1933 that made recession a
fact of life for the rest of the decade.
• Says the summit will agree new ground rules to control not just the structure
of executive pay, but their absolute levels. He also claims the summit will also
signal "the beginning of the end of the offshore tax havens and banking
• Seeks to dispel notions of a split between the US and mainland Europe on
whether to back a specific co-ordinated further economic stimulus linked to each
nation's GDP, saying: "It is not about numbers, but about commitments by each
continent to coordinate their action."
The prime minister also argued that the world recession was changing the
public's expectations of business values, and they no longer believe a
successful economy has to be based on high levels of risk.
"Most people want business to have the same values as they practise in their
everyday life. People would rather reward hard work rather than risk-taking.
They want to support enterprise and not excess. They want to support people that
take responsibility and not run away from it".
Giving his fullest defence of his role in the recession, and his refusal to
offer an outright apology, he said: "I take full responsibility for all my
The prime minister said: "We created a system in 1997 which was unified
regulation. Before 1997 it was virtually self-regulation. We created a statutory
system, but around the world we were finding that we had a global set of
financial flows and you needed global supervision."
He added there had been a wider general intellectual failure to understand the
dangers of these sophisticated markets.
"The general view of financial practitioners was that the more ownership of
products was diversified, the more you limited the danger of risk falling on one
"But actually because of the entangled nature of the financial institutions,
what was designed to spread risk actually spread contagion."
He defended his role in bailing out the banks, saying he had saved them from
collapse and claimed his government was the first in the world to impose
quantitative targets for lending amounting to £50bn this year to banks in which
the government holds shares.
Brown: I should have
done more to prevent bank crisis, 17.3.2009, 17.3.2009,
Gordon Brown vows to bring Northern Ireland murderers to
Prime minister says the people of Ulster are determined to 'stand up to the
evil of criminal violence'
Wednesday 11 March 2009
Deborah Summers, politics editor
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 12.44 GMT on Wednesday 11
It was last updated at 14.21 GMT on Wednesday 11 March 2009.
Gordon Brown today vowed that no stone would be left unturned in tracking
down the murderers of two soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland.
The prime minister said he had personally spoken to Sir Hugh Orde, the chief
constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, to ensure he had all
resources necessary to "bring criminal murderers to justice" and combat the
As he joined with the Tory leader, David Cameron, to condemn the killings at
prime minister's question time, Brown said: "Out of tragedy we are seeing a
unity which shows the determination that while a few murderers may try to
disrupt the process, the whole of the people of Northern Ireland want not only
to see justice done but to send a message that the political process is here to
stay and is working."
Brown said today's peace marches in Northern Ireland showed the "defiance and
determination" of people to "stand up to the evil of criminal violence".
Both leaders also criticised the disruption of a homecoming parade of British
soldiers by anti-war protesters in Luton yesterday.
"There is a right to freedom of speech but there is not a right to disruption
and to public disorder," Brown said.
Cameron, returning to PMQs two weeks after the death of his son Ivan, condemned
the "callous killers" who shot the two soldiers on Saturday and the policeman in
Insisting Northern Ireland was not "staring into the abyss", he said there ought
to be a "measured" response to the killings.
The most important thing was that everyone worked with the police to ensure the
killers could be found and convicted, Cameron said.
Gordon Brown vows to
bring Northern Ireland murderers to justice, G, 11.3.2009,
Brown holds security talks in Northern Ireland
PM arrives at Massereene barracks
to meet province's most senior army officer for security talks about terror
Monday 9 March 2009 09.18 GMT
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 09.18 GMT on Monday 9
It was last updated at 12.09 GMT on Monday 9 March 2009.
The prime minister, Gordon Brown, arrived at Massereene
barracks in Northern Ireland early this morning to hold talks about military
security with the province's most senior army officer.
Brown flew in to Aldegrove airport outside Belfast and was driven to the 38
Engineers Regiment base, the scene of the attack at the weekend claimed by the
Flanked by motorcycle outriders, a convoy of armoured black Range Rovers
carrying the prime minister arrived just before 8.20am.
They drove through the entrance where the two young soldiers were gunned down on
Saturday evening as they came out to collect pizzas.
The convoy passed the accumulating pile of flowers left by wellwishers just
outside the entrance to the barracks.
Brown was joined by the Northern Ireland secretary, Shaun Woodward, and the
province's security minister, Paul Goggins, for the meeting with Brigadier
George Norton, the Northern Ireland garrison commander.
They are discussing measures to improve security at the remaining army bases as
the threat of attack from dissident republican groups deepens.
The attack follows an incident in which a 300lb (136kg) bomb was abandoned last
month in Castlewellan, County Down. The device had been prepared for use against
another army barracks.
After the meeting at the Massereene base in Antrim, the prime minister will be
driven to Stormont to hold talks with the leaders of the power-sharing devolved
He will meet Peter Robinson, the first minister and leader of the Democratic
Unionist party, and Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin politician who is deputy
A Downing Street spokeswoman said that there were no plans for the prime
minister to visit the injured in hospital.
Brown holds security
talks in Northern Ireland, G, 9.3.2009,
Gordon Brown calls for morality in banking system
Prime minister says financial institutions need to work with
integrity to win back confidence of the public
Friday 6 March 2009
Guardian.co.uk, 17.24 GMT
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 17.24 GMT on Friday 6
It was last updated at 17.24 GMT on Friday 6 March 2009.
Gordon Brown today said that banking needed to become more
moral as he called for an end to the era of "irresponsibility and excess" that
brought the international economy close to collapse.
In a speech to the Scottish Labour Party, the prime minister said the banks
needed to urgently restore their reputation for honesty and integrity.
Brown declined to accept any direct responsibility for the domestic banking
crisis, despite coming under pressure recently to issue some sort of apology.
Instead, he insisted it was the banks alone who were solely responsible for
"In Scotland, you and I were brought to value hard work and effort, enterprise
and honesty, integrity and taking responsibility, and these are the values we
live by in our families and our working lives," Brown said.
"They are the values of the good society - and they must now become the values
of the good economy. They are the values we must spread throughout our banks and
our financial system. We have to clean up for good an irresponsibility and
excess that has been exposed in every continent of the world."
Brown confirmed he would be pressing the G20 conference of world economic
leaders in London next month to adopt four new principles of banking: an end to
tax havens; the ending of the short-term bonus culture; regulation covering the
health of the entire financial system, not just individual firms; and the
creation of a better global framework for international financial supervision.
"I believe there is an emerging consensus on how we strengthen global regulation
of our financial markets to prevent any recurrence of the collapse that has
caused so much damage to economies around the world," he said, in a reference to
his talks with Barack Obama in Washington this weekend.
"There is an agreement that we cannot allow the approach of the lowest common
denominator when we need the highest standards of banking trust.
"We cannot allow a race to the bottom in standards, when we need to be at the
best standards all around."
Brown claimed that the UK had already led the world by taking action to tackle
the recession and by limiting the damaging effects of the recession on jobs,
businesses and ordinary people's lives.
He said: "What's making me angry is that good people, hardworking people, are
getting squeezed because of banking mistakes and that is why we need an urgent
clear-up and clearing out of our banking system."
Brown also used his speech to launch a renewed attack on the SNP's continuing
quest for independence.
He welcomed a Scottish parliament vote on Thursday against staging a referendum
on independence next year, but said he would introduce new measures to
strengthen the powers of the Scottish parliament if they were recommended by the
Calman commission on devolution set up last year.
He said that the scale of the collapse of Scotland's two major banks, HBOS and
RBS, the collapse of Iceland's economy, and the sharp fall in oil prices had
proven that a country of Scotland's size could not survive alone, outside the
"People know that what scars Scotland is not its border but poverty. That it
isn't flags that matter most to the people of Scotland, but fairness. That it's
not building embassies that count for the future, but building greater
equality," he said.
Brown also said that, at the suggestion of the Scottish secretary, Jim Murphy,
the cabinet would meet in Scotland before the summer - the first time in 100
years that it had met north of the border.
About 15 members of the Union of Communication Workers staged a silent protest
during the prime minister's speech, sitting down in the centre of the conference
hall wearing white T-shirts which said: "Keep the Post Public".
Gordon Brown calls
for morality in banking system, G, 6.3.2009,
Now more than ever the world wants to work with you, Brown
Prime minister urges Congress to follow Obama's lead on
climate change and economy
Wednesday 4 March 2009
Patrick Wintour in Washington
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 16.51 GMT on Wednesday 4
It was last updated at 18.41 GMT on Wednesday 4 March 2009.
Gordon Brown today made an impassioned appeal to the US
Congress to stay true to the spirit of American optimism and let Barack Obama
lead the world away from self-defeating protectionism and the perils of climate
In a speech designed to lift an often insular Congress, Brown insisted that at a
time of peacetime crisis it is the task of government, as the representatives of
the people, to be the public's last line of defence.
Urging the assembled members of Congress to have faith in the future, the prime
minister told them to recognise that "now more than ever the world wants to work
with you". The old divisions in Europe over the Iraq war were over, and a
generation of leaders across the European continent were now impatient to work
in harmony with a new president willing to seize the moment.
Basing his appeal on conversations with Obama and his team, Brown challenged
American legislators to recognise that protectionism and indifference to the
environment would be fatal. He told them: "I believe that you, the nation that
had the vision to put a man on the moon, are also the nation with the vision to
protect and preserve our planet Earth."
Brown, whose speech was punctuated by 16 standing ovations, also asked: "Should
we succumb to a race to the bottom, and a protectionism that history tells us
that in the end protects no one? No. We should have the confidence, America and
Britain most of all, that we can seize the opportunities ahead and make the
future work for us."
The invitation to speak to both houses of Congress is a rare honour afforded
only four previous British prime ministers and 100 foreign dignitaries since the
tradition started with the Marquis de la Lafayette, the French hero of the
American revolution, in 1824.
Brown pointed out that past prime ministers had come to the Capitol building to
speak at times of war, but he came to talk of new battles, "to speak of a global
economy in crisis and a planet imperilled".
With reference to Franklin Roosevelt's dictum that "the only thing we have to
fear is fear itself", he urged Americans to remember "something that runs deep
in your character and is woven in your history: we conquer our fear of the
future through our faith in the future".
The prime minister appealed to Congress to recognise that at a time of crisis
there was a new need for the world to come together to fight recession.
"When banks have failed and the markets have faltered we, the representatives of
the people, have to be the people's last line of defence. And that is why there
is no financial orthodoxy so entrenched, no conventional thinking so ingrained,
no special interest so strong, that it should ever stand in the way of change
that hard-working families need."
In a bid to lure America into joint action on regulation and banking, he said:
"You now have the most pro-American European leadership in living memory, a
leadership that wants to cooperate more closely together in order to cooperate
more closely with you. There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is your
friend Europe. So seize the moment."
He said little about his belief, voiced incessantly in Britain, that the
economic crisis had been caused by reckless American banking in the mortgage
market, simply saying "an economic hurricane has swept the world creating a
crisis of credit and confidence".
But echoing Alan Greenspan, his former guru and one-time chairman of the US
Federal Reserve, he explained: "The very financial instruments that were
designed to diversify risk across the banking system instead spread contagion
across the globe. And today's financial institutions are so interwoven that a
bad bank anywhere is a threat to good banks everywhere."
He said the recent events had "forced us all to think anew", adding: "I have
learnt many things."
Brown also tried to shed his image as a dry schemer of new international
financial architecture. Adopting a more empathetic rhetorical tone, he said:
"Let us be honest tonight: too many parents, after they put their children to
bed, will speak of their worries about losing their jobs or the need to sell
houses. Too many will share stories of friends or neighbours already packing up
their homes and too many will talk of a local store or business that has already
gone to the wall.
"For me, this global recession is not just measured in statistics or in graphs
or in figures on a balance sheet. Instead, I see one individual with their own
aspirations and increasingly their own apprehensions, and then another and then
another. Each with their own stars to reach for. Each part of a family, each at
the heart of a community, now in need of help and hope."
He received a roar of approval when he said everyone's savings would be safer
"if the whole world finally came together to outlaw shadow banking systems and
offshore tax havens".
Brown also spelled out the importance of climate change and the need for America
to sign an international agreement limiting worldwide emissions at the
forthcoming UN conference in Copenhagen. George Bush had repeatedly vetoed
American participation in the agreement, but Obama has promised to introduce a
cap and trade bill similar to the EU emissions trading scheme.
Obama faces a fight to get the legislation through Congress as many congressmen
fear it will cost their electorate too much. But he argued: "The new frontier is
that there is no frontier. The new shared truth is that global problems need
Urging a historic agreement at Copenhagen, he said: "We must commit to
protecting the planet for the future generations that will come long after us."
Adapting a Greek proverb, he asked: "Why does anybody plant the seeds of a tree
whose shade they never will see?"
And, on Iran, he receive an ovation when he said Tehran had to cease its threats
and stop its nuclear programme.
The opening passages of his speech were littered with flattering references to
the American dream and the US sacrifice in two world wars, remarks that are
standard for visiting dignitaries making such addresses. He described America as
the indispensable nation and the irrepressible nation.
"Throughout your history, Americans have led insurrections in the human
imagination, have summoned revolutionary times through your belief that there is
no such thing as an impossible endeavour. It is never possible to come here
without having your faith in the future renewed."
He also won warm applause when he announced that the Queen was to bestow a
knighthood on Edward Kennedy, the veteran Democrat senator and a friend of
Now more than ever
the world wants to work with you, Brown tells US, G, 4.3.2009,
Brown accuses RBS of taking ‘irresponsible risks’
Published: January 19 2009 08:34
Last updated: January 19 2009 14:08
The Financial Times
By Alex Barker, Maggie Urry and Peter Thal Larsen
Gordon Brown on Monday unveiled a second bank rescue package including powers
for the Bank of England to lend up to £50bn directly to businesses, as he
accused the Royal Bank of Scotland of taking ”irresponsible risks” as the bank’s
His comments came as RBS on Monday warned it could report an annual loss of up
to £28bn, following the mis-timed acquisition of ABN Amro, the Dutch lender it
acquired as part of a €71bn (£63bn) hostile break-up bid in 2007.
”Almost all their losses are in subprime mortgages in America
and related to the acquisition of ABN Amro. These are irresponsible risks taken
by the bank with people’s money in the UK,” Mr Brown said, adding that the
decision to buy ABN ”was wrong”.
The outburst from Mr Brown came as the Treasury agreed to replace the £5bn in
RBS preference shares held by the government since the October bailout with
ordinary stock. This will increase government ownership to almost 70 per cent.
Shares in RBS fell 20.1p or nearly 60 per cent to 14.6p, valuing the bank’s
capital at less than £6bn, as investors feared the bank may be fully
Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS, said that full nationalisation was
something that was discussed over the weekend with the government but it was
”something we all wished to avoid.”
The government’s decision to increase its RBS holding was part of a second
bailout package designed to shore up Britain’s struggling lenders.
In an effort to bring down borrowing costs, a new £50bn fund will be established
to allow the Bank to extend loans to some of Britain’s biggest companies.
Alistair Darling, chancellor, said the Bank would take ”security and assets”
that would be sold on ”once the economy starts to improve”.
Denying that he was ”writing a blank cheque” for the banks, Mr Brown said the
steps were necessary to revive lending in the economy and compensate for
retrenchment of the world’s banking system.
The establishment of the Bank’s corporate lending fund will have a neutral
effect on money supply. But it provides the framework for the Bank of England to
implement a policy of ”quantitative easing” or effectively pumping money into
the economy should it decide there is a need to do so.
Sterling, however, fell against leading currencies including the yen, dollar and
euro in reaction to the government’s latest measure to shore up the UK’s
financial system. UK government bond prices also fell forcing gilts sharply
Lee Hardman at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ said: “The government is putting the
framework in place for the Bank of England to move towards quantitative easing,
which would tend to be negative for sterling, because it would increase the
supply of currency in the market. The market is anticipating that and sterling
has fallen accordingly.”
The reaction in equity markets was broadly positive with the FTSE rising nearly
2 per cent in morning trading after suffering heavy falls last week.
The scheme, which will be detailed more fully by the end of February, will allow
banks to buy government protection for eligible assets by paying a fee, which
will be agreed case by case. The fee is most likely to be paid through the issue
of preference shares to the government, but the Treasury said it would consider
The banks will remain responsible for a “first loss” amount,
similar to an excess in a normal insurance claim, and will also remain liable
for about 10 per cent of the residual loss. The government insisted on this
clause to make sure the banks had an incentive “to endeavour to keep losses to a
The assets can be denominated in any currency. Those most likely to participate
in the scheme are portfolios of commercial and residential property loans;
structured credit assets, including certain asset-backed securities; and other
corporate and leveraged loans. The scheme is expected to continue for at least
Similar schemes are expected to be set up in other countries, and the government
said it would hold discussions with its international partners to co-ordinate
them. Details of a similar scheme being considered by the US government are
expected to emerge in the coming days, while other countries are expected to
The new measures to stabilise the financial system and encourage banks to start
lending again is unlikely to have an immediate cost to the taxpayer, economists
said, but could cause the already severely stretched public finances to get even
worse should further large losses materialise on assets guaranteed by the
The fresh efforts to help banks are ”exposing the public finances to more risk”
than the original bailout package, according to Gemma Tetlow of the Institute
for Fiscal Studies.
Among the other measures, the government said it would extend the credit
guarantee scheme which had been due to expire in April to the end of the year.
It announced a new guarantee scheme, to begin in April, for triple-A rated
asset-backed securities, including mortgages and consumer debt.
It announced that Northern Rock would stop winding down its mortgage book and
return to offering new loans in an attempt to bring new capacity into the
mortgage lending market.
Brown accuses RBS of
taking ‘irresponsible risks’, FT, 19.1.2009,
Tough lap for the marathon man
Relaxing in his Queensferry home amid the clutter of a family Christmas and
with his two-year-old son bursting in and out, the prime minister is in
determinedly upbeat mood as he talks about his own extraordinarily tough
political journey so far, the hard economic times ahead, keeping the environment
a priority, and his new year's resolution to get fitter
Sunday 4 January 2009
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT on Sunday 4
It appeared in the Observer on Sunday 4 January 2009 on p6 of the News section.
It was last updated at 01.14 GMT on Sunday 4 January 2009.
Settled into his armchair by the fire, the prime minister may be two days
into the new year, but he is still surrounded by the cosy detritus of a family
There is a half-drunk glass of white wine abandoned on the coffee table at his
Queensferry home - the Browns had friends around for dinner the previous night -
and a stack of children's books and board games piled lopsidedly under a
Christmas tree now shedding needles with abandon. His two-year-old son, Fraser,
bursts in periodically still clad in his pyjamas and scrambles gleefully on to
his father's lap.
Whether or not prompted by festive indulgences, Brown candidly admits that his
new year's resolution is to get fitter: he has taken up running, albeit only "a
mile or two" at a time. "I will never be able to be back to being the sprinter
that I used to be," says the former schoolboy athlete ruefully, "but I want to
be fitter. What would I do a mile in? It's a bit more than it used to be."
Which is ironic, since in politics Brown is the master not of the sprint but the
marathon: doggedly staying the course, throughout the frustrated years under
Tony Blair, to emerge at the head of the pack - only to find that the toughest
leg of the race lay ahead. Last summer it seemed he had been permanently
overtaken by more lightfooted rivals, from David Miliband to David Cameron. But
then the world plunged into economic crisis, and now Labour's tortoise is once
again gaining on the hare.
He shrugs off questions about how punishing that race has been, but the fizzy
water at which he sips hints at the strains. Brown has given up tea and coffee
after realising that the caffeine did him no favours under stress.
Yet even here, among the minutiae of domestic life, Brown's mind is on wider
horizons. He wants to talk about the big picture: global economic trends, the
birth of a new world order, billions to spend. He refuses to dwell on the
personal - his extraordinary recent political journey to the brink and back is
dismissed as merely "the highs and lows of politics", one borne as stoically as
the other - and brushes aside talk of what he calls the "trivia" of personality
politics. "I think it was Barack Obama who said that the bigness of the
challenges counterposed against the smallness of our politics ... I sometimes
think that in Britain we actually are in danger of losing sight of these big
challenges by concentrating on who said what, when, how on a particular day in
some House of Commons exchange."
The challenges are certainly big. But on the day that the British Chambers of
Commerce predict one in 10 Britons will soon be out of work, Gordon Brown is in
determinedly upbeat mood. He mocks the Observer for being too pessimistic in our
questions: " 'Can we afford this, can we afford that'! I'm more optimistic about
our ability to be a successful economy creating large amounts of wealth in the
The world economy will double in the next 20 years regardless of the downturn,
he insists; he believes Britain can sell to emerging markets in India and China,
despite slowing growth in Asia. His huge pile of bedside reading has recently
included Fareed Zakaria's book The Post-American World, which argues that the
era of US world dominance is ending with India, China, Russia and Brazil
emerging as new powers. "I don't buy the argument that the beneficiaries of the
next age of globalisation are only the Asian countries," he says. "These
[British goods] are the products that the world will want to buy. I don't see us
muddling through a difficult set of economic events. I see us as equipping
ourselves to meet the big challenges of the future."
Yet many Britons will return to work tomorrow unsure what the immediate future
holds for them, which is why this month Brown will be focusing on jobs. He will
host a summit on boosting employment on 12 January, promising to create jobs
through public works - in an echo of Franklin D Roosevelt's New Deal, launched
in the 1930s to help America literally build its way out of a depression - and
preserve existing jobs by persuading the banks to lend more freely to business
Furthermore, he insists it can all be done while simultaneously saving the
planet, arguing that investing in eco-friendly projects could both create jobs
now and engineer a lean, low carbon economy for the long term. "Rather than [the
recession] pushing the environment into a lower order of priority, the
environment is part of the solution."
He is similarly bullish about any suggestion that, after a decade running the
economy from the Treasury, he could have done more to avert that recession. Does
he accept with hindsight that it was asking for trouble to let credit card debt
spiral so high, or allow banks to offer mortgages of six times salary? "We have
to look at this in historical perspective," says Brown. "The demand for home
ownership has been growing radically and we wanted to help meet that demand for
home ownership. There's more than one million new homeowners [created] in the
last few years."
But what if some of them now lose those homes? Even then it appears he would
have no doubts, merely remedies: "We are going to do everything in our power to
stop repossessions." While he admits he himself has a "Presbyterian background"
of fiscal caution, the prime minister says there is nothing wrong in people
wanting to have "the best for their families".
Besides, he argues, in normal times even large mortgages would still be
manageable: it is only because the banking system has seized up unprecedentedly,
choking off credit, that people are squeezed. "This financial crisis is less to
do with the level of personal debt in any single economy and it's more to do
with a failure in the financial system itself. If you look at the economy in
normal situations, where we have low inflation and low interest rates, people
are able to pay their mortgages."
His only regret, he suggests, is that he could not get other countries to agree
to tighter regulation of international banking until it was too late: he wanted
to do it, he says, after the Asian bubble burst in the late 1990s. "I don't want
to sound arrogant, but 10 years ago I was making both speeches and proposals to
sort out this failure of global regulation and I couldn't persuade other
countries after the Asian crisis of 1998 that it was necessary."
Brown hopes his warnings will be heeded more closely at this spring's G20
summit, which he argues must devise a "global recovery plan" modelled on
Britain's. He insists that, when Barack Obama unleashes his own fiscal stimulus
package for the US shortly, Britain's actions will be viewed more positively. He
is frustrated that the debate has come to be seen as a "battle between
monetarists and Keynesians" about the rights and wrongs of borrowing rather
than, as he suggests, a pragmatic response to unique events.
Outside the window as he speaks, a weak shaft of sunlight breaks through the
January drizzle. This, Brown jokes, counts as good weather for Scotland. The
prime minister thinks he can see sunshine through the clouds of economic gloom:
his task now is to persuade anxious voters to see it too.
... On Gordon Brown
You lost a couple of significant byelections; you had a backbench revolt over
10p tax. It was a tough year. In your darkest days, with speculation about a
leadership challenge, how were you feeling?
"I have had more difficult days than that. You have just got to keep going. As
long as you know you have got a plan for doing things, you can deal with most of
the problems that come your way. I felt at the time we had to get across what we
were trying to do. I saw the difficulties we faced in the world economy and I
wanted to be able to get people together to deal with that."
Did you ever doubt that you would come through it?
"I was determined. But in politics it's up to a lot of people to decide what
happens; it's not up to one person."
When did you decide to make those changes to the cabinet and, in particular, to
invite Peter Mandelson back? What was it that caused you to think about doing
"I only asked Peter Mandelson to come back the Wednesday before it was announced
on the Friday. I had never talked to him about that until that week... but I was
looking at how we could strengthen the government. In a situation where you have
these huge challenges, you need the best people."
What are you reading currently?
"All sorts of things. I have been reading a novel about Afghanistan that's won
all the prizes, The Kite Runner. It's really good. And quite a few books about
the Middle East at the moment, because I think it's really important to find out
what's going on."
Challenges in the year ahead
20 January Inauguration of President Obama in the US. His stance on climate
change, the Middle East and the war on terror may be closer than George Bush's
to British interests, but arguments over trade protectionism are possible.
Potentially embarrassing if he meets other world leaders before Brown.
February Elections in Israel, which could influence progress on Middle East
March The budget is due. Judgments will be made about whether the VAT cut and
other economy boosting measures in the pre-budget report have worked. End of
last quarter of financial year could see the worst of job losses in retail.
April G20 summit at which Brown will propose a global economic recovery plan. If
other states follow his fiscal stimulus lead, it could be a triumph; if not, he
will look isolated.
April/May If Labour is still within sight of the Tories in the polls, pressure
for a spring election will be intense. But it would be a massive gamble in the
middle of what could be major job losses.
June European parliament elections: the Tories will focus on Brown's refusal to
hold a referendum on EU expansion.
September A year on from the banking collapse, Brown's response will be judged
at the Labour party conference.
November Copenhagen climate change conference at which a successor deal to Kyoto
must be agreed.
Tough lap for the
marathon man, O, 4.1.2009,