Quote [93] – Brown As PM


Meeting of leaders on the financial crisis:

After plenary session, the leaders returned to their private dining room for lunch.  Brown refused to allow the leaders to have their ’sherpas’ in the room. ‘I don’t want those fucking people anywhere near us,’ he said.  He wanted an opportunity to address the leaders alone and hoped to create a sense of community and camaraderie among them.  However, the absence of aides created mayhem in the dining room, as several of the national leaders lacked the English to understand the conversations.  Brown’s worry at this fraught stage was that, if the officials were present, they would try to take control, and he would lose it.

Heywood, Cunliffe and Fletcher were in the room, because Brown as chair, was allowed three support staff; Vadera was also there throughout.

Even knowing him as well as they did, there were struck by the sheer brute force of Brown’s personality that day.  His strategy with the leaders was: ‘You will not leave this room until we have it sorted, and if we fail the eyes of the world will be he upon us.’  Stewart Wood says: ‘His strong instinct was that the only way to get a deal that will stand up, is when you get out the people who actually have objections galore and you bang their heads together.  He was an incredibly tough chairman.’

The Prime Minister’s grasp of the leaders psychology and their need to return home with a successful deal was masterly.  This was payback time for his cranking up expectations so deliberately over the preceding weeks: he knew his counterparts would not want to end the conference with their media saying little of significance had been achieved.

He bruised egos and affronted people, without blushing.  Many did not like the hectoring way that he conducted the meeting, but accepted, some more grudgingly than others, that he alone was capable of bringing them all together and battering out a common communiqué.  Simon McDonald believes Brown pulled it off ultimately because the foreign leaders trusted his expertise, gained during his ten years as Chancellor, and believed that he had an authority they did not possess.

‘He confronted everyone with the severity of the crisis and had the credibility to get away with it.  Sparks were coming off him.’ McDonald says.  Vadera believes that the leaders were forced to abandon ‘their set speeches with their pre-prepared positions’, adding: ‘They really did change their positions and do something that they may not have come prepared to do.’

Government – PM Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon


Every organisation has toxic individuals and practices: the job of an effective leader is either to contain or banish them.

Brown was caught in a terrible dilemma.  He could understand why many of those close to him rebelled at Whelan and McBride et al and their antics.  But he admired McBride’s and Whelan’s loyalty, and believed their tactics were necessary to protect him against what he considered were equally unscrupulous opponents. ‘Gordon saw conspiracies everywhere and was convinced that he needed a heavy hitter who could plant stories in the press for him,’ says an official; those he feared most were ‘almost always fellow members of the Cabinet’ recalls another.

The threats were real in a premiership where the Prime Minister was under almost constant challenge.

Government – PM Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon


On McBrides Departure:

In a single day, the boil was lanced.  The class bully had gone,’ says one insider.  But McBride can be blamed too much.  As with Balls, Whelan and the rest, his behaviour reflected and modelled that of his master.  They were all talented individuals who were ‘spoilt’ by the pursuit and retention of power.

Government – PM


Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon


The absence of a formal Deputy Prime Minister frustrated Brown’s civil servants, who had to work hard to ensure that Brown never missed Cabinet to avoid tension over who should chair the meeting in his place.  It also meant it was not clear who should take charge when Brown was away from Downing Street over the summer holidays: hence the series of caretakers in the summer of 2009. Government – Executive structure Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon


One adviser described it as ‘respectable but not revolutionary’.  The report nevertheless secured substantial media coverage, a rare feat for the government’s domestic policy, and earned plaudits for Brown’s open-mindedness in setting Milburn on the task.  Overall, June turned out, even after the dreadful start, to be a good month, and advisers felt lifted.  One contemporary diary from Number 10 captures the feeling about the new agenda:’ ‘With the launch of BBF [Building Britain’s Future], it feels more sustainable and policy-rich.  It feels like we’re going into the summer fighting.’ Government – PM – Direction – Policy Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon


The ramshackle decision-making on the plane on the NATO summit had caused ripples across Whitehall.  From that point on, Brown resolved emphatically that troop levels and other core military matters would be discussed properly in the NSID committee.  But, as with many of Brown’s best intentions, little changed. Government – PM – Decision making


Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon


To the end, Brown did not understand that it was not his job to wait for his cabinet ministers to come to him, but rather for him to empower and embolden the, as opposed to leaving them in limbo of uncertainty and doubt Government – PM


Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon


At Brown’s urging, Swedish President Fredrick Reinfeldt, who was in the chair, went around the table and asked each head of government how much they were prepared to commit towards the $10bn per annum climate fund.  After they had all put in their offers, Brown disconcerted the meeting by saying that the total was insufficient to pay Europe’s fair share of the global total. ‘We need to do more than this’, he told them bluntly.  Berlusconi complained that his finance minister Giulio Tremonti would not let him give any more. ‘Do you want me to ring him?’ asked Brown, who knew Tremonti well from their days as fellow finance ministers.  Berlusconi shrugged.  A few minutes later, Brown came back from the phone call to tell Berlusconi that his finance minister had agreed with him a higher Italian contribution.  When the Council reconvened, Reinfeldt announced that the total EU commitment was not considerably larger. Government – PM – Personal relationships – drive/clarity



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