Category Archives: Politics

Quote [98] – The Labour Party And Its Dance With The Right Wing Press

At the party conference, the new Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, declared that there should be ‘no excuses’ for cases such as hers, and that government needed to do ‘much, much more’ to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Johnson succeeding Smith at the Home Office in June 2009 gave a fresh impetus to the agenda, but far more energy came from Brown’s realisation that embracing it would be a popular rallying cry with the right-wing press as the election approached, and most important of all, that it would appeal to the manual working class, whose communities were blighted by this behaviour.

Only late in the day did Brown understand what Blair had understood fifteen years before – that the working class are the main sufferers from lawlessness.

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
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Quote [97] – The Labour Party If Nothing Else Its Health And Education, Balls

Balls himself was deeply resistant to the idea of spending cuts, especially if they were on education. ‘I don’t see how, as the Labour Party, we can go into an election campaign cutting.  If the Labour Party exists for anything, it’s for the protection and improvement of the NHS, and to provide a decent level of education for our children,’ he said. Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon

Quote [96] – Brown As PM And The Trouble With A Disloyal Cabinet

As Heywood once put is in an email exchange with number 10 colleagues, after an overzealous Treasury adviser had rejected a Number 10 request: ‘Perhaps someone should remind him that GB is First Lord of the Treasury.’

But, in the reality of day-to-day interactions, Treasury officials held great power in their control over information.  In the run-up to the Pre-Budget Report, and the Budget the following March, Number 10 was so routinely denied key information that advisers were forced to rely on their own internal model of public spending figures, allowing them to play with spending scenarios, and guess at the numbers Treasury colleagues would not give them.  Their strength was greatly boosted by Josh Goodman, working at Number 10s Policy Unit, and himself a former Treasury official.  Highly rated by colleagues, Goodman’s work enabled advisers to weigh up spending options, and estimate Treasury figures, such as the levels of unemployment assumed in forecasts.

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
On seeking tax revenue:

This aspect of the Pre-Budget Report touched squarely on the fairness agenda, newly dramatised by the banking crisis.  Labour’s own analysis claimed that 50 per cent of all the tax revenues raised since 2008 Pre-Budget Report came from the top 2 per cent of earners – a figure Number 10 felt gave a clear indication of the governments commitment to fairness.

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
“But in his second year, he still set aside an incredible amount of time to get ready for PMQs: four hours on Monday, four hours on Tuesday and, again, all of Wednesday morning.”

“His core PMQs team – “”found that the less time Brown spent, and the less he agonised about it, the better he became.”

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
“Getting the measure of Cameron was something he found very hard to do. ‘He treats PMQs like a game,’ Brown complained.

‘But it is a game’ his team would say back to him.

‘Lighten up and make a joke’ Hoon would advise.  ‘I can’t do that’ was the reply, which the chief whip found very revealing.

‘Why doesn’t he ask me about the big issues of the day,’ the Prime Minister regularly lamented at number 10.  ‘He’s only interested in gossip and innuendo.’

Brown would often become intensely angry that he was unable to command PMQs as he wanted.”

“It took him the best part of two years to understand that PMQs were not the forum for him to announce new policy and that Cameron was playing on his weaknesses to embarrass and annoy him.’  [Cameron] will ask you about the most embarrassing issue of the day, not the most important,’ he would be told, yet it seemed continually to surprise him.

Jowell and Straw, who was felt still to be smarting at not having been made Deputy Prime Minister in the June reshuffle, were holding their own conversations about the ‘Brown problem’.  They, too, had spoken to each other just after New Year and had agreed to see Brown and tell him that he would have ‘think very hard about remaining as leader’.

Jowell saw him at 6pm on Monday 4 January and her understanding was that Straw would see him at 7pm.

“In she marched and reportedly told him: ’I want to see you because this is a conversation only you and I can have.’ “

“It’s not fair, but you’re costing the Labour Party considerable degree of support,’ she is said to have told him. ‘Tony told me that if ever he was an encumbrance to the Labour Party, I must tell him.  I feel I owe it to you Gordon, to tell you directly that this is now the case.  I will never talk to the press about it, but you should still know what I think.’  Piling on the agony, she continued: ‘Even at the end, Tony still had six people in Cabinet who would die for him; you have only one, Ed Balls ..It’s not fair, but people don’t like you.  They don’t understand you.  If you decide to carry on, I’’ continue to support you, but you owe it to the Labour Party to think again.’

At that point, Brown’s morale apparently collapsed and he asked: ‘Are you telling me I have to go?’ She replied: ‘No.  You have to think very hard whether or not it’s right for the Labour Party for you to stand down.’

But what of Straw? Jowell called him on the Monday evening to see how his own meeting had gone: ‘I ran out of time,’ he told her, and was thus unable to raise the question of Brown’s future with him.
Alan Johnson was spoken to by Number 10 but, regardless of what he told Tony Lloyd, he flatly refused to support Brown in public then and there. ‘’I’m not going to be boxed in,’ he told Brown’s team.  When phoned by Number 10, Staid said he would put out a supportive statement but then ‘disappeared for hours’.
Irony was in the air.  Brown had been rejuvenated by the whole coup experience.  He was also philosophical. ‘GB learned to accept it as a fact of life.  He learned to live with the fact that Jack was a schemer.  That Harriet couldn’t be trusted.  That David Miliband wanted his job,’ says one of his aides, adding ruefully: ‘But it was profoundly unhelpful to have had the constant speculation about leadership running through the life of his government.’
He tried hard to be seen as a worthy national leader, by making his regular visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the esteem in which he held soldiers of the armed forces was clears from his personal letters and private hospital visits.  Pointedly, he referred to the military in his final words as Prime Minister in the street outside Number 10.  Nothing h did or said made any difference with the senior officers, who never wanted him and mostly treated him with contempt to the end Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
Hampered by his frustration with Miliband, and by his December 3007 statement that Britain would ‘never’ talk to the Taliban, Brown ended up distancing himself from a political resolution.  Thus, neither MI6, nor indeed the CIA, was ever authorised to talk to the Taliban, in contrast to Northern Ireland, where there had been a secret channel in existence for twenty years before Major started talking to the IRA.

‘The truth is we can’t communicate with the Taliban. We don’t even really know who they are.  Gordon Brown repeatedly refused to authorise anything in that area.’ Says a senior official.

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon

Quote [95] – Brown As PM Relationship With The Treasury

In rare moments of calm, he (brown) revelled in long discussions on Snowden, Keynes and the inter-war Treasury with his team, and loved reciting the story of how a Treasury official scrawled the words ‘extravagance’, ‘inflation’ and ‘bankruptcy’ on the cover of Keynes’s co-authored pamphlet We Can Conquer Unemployment. Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
Brown’s distrust of Treasury officials went back a long way.  ‘In his early years as Chancellor, Brown and Balls set up a series of structures designed to neutralise the Treasury,’ says a senior mandarin from the department.  Underpinning that was the classic Labour view of the world – that the Treasury would be ‘out to get’ a Labour government’.  By 2009, Brown’s sights had narrowed and ‘towards the end, Brown was seeing the Treasury as an institution which was out to get him personally’.  One official in Number 10 believed that the Treasury ‘would goad Alistair to stand up to him and show “who was the man”’.

Brown felt the Treasury had let itself become ‘petrified’ of the ratings agencies, and the risk of a sovereign debt crisis.  Again, he drew historic parallels, believing that the Treasury of 2010, like the Treasury of the 1930s, was a ‘prisoner of economic orthodoxy’.

Quote [94] – Brown As PM Relationship At No.10

 

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
Re. issue of expenses:

On 9 May, a Telegraph leader absolved Brown of personal wrong-doing: ‘There has never been any suggestion of any impropriety on the part of the Prime Minister or his brother.’  But the harm was done by then, and the paper knew it.  Brown’s reacting so personally, while understandable, clouded his judgment at a critical time.  He became intensely self-centred, impervious to outsiders.  He showed none of the sang froid he displayed during the financial crisis.  To be effective in crisis, leaders need to be calm and objective to take the right decisions.  In this instance, he was neither of these.

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

 

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

 

 

Quote [92] – Agenda Led News, The Architecture of An Unhealthy Distrust Yet To Come – “Fake News” yet to come

Obama’s own efforts to be positive is were disregarded.  To a question from the BBC’s Nick Robinson, he responded: ‘This notion that somehow there is any lessening of that special relationship is misguided.’  To ITV’s Tom Bradby he said: ‘This is my third meeting with Prime Minister Brown, and id like to think that our relationship terrific.’

Little of this was reflected in the British Media reports.  ‘They were determined beforehand to write the trip up as a disaster,’ is the verdict of one British official.

Agenda not news based Media Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon

 

  Re. issue of expenses:

On 9 May, a Telegraph leader absolved Brown of personal wrong-doing: ‘There has never been any suggestion of any impropriety on the part of the Prime Minister or his brother.’  But the harm was done by then, and the paper knew it.  Brown’s reacting so personally, while understandable, clouded his judgment at a critical time.  He became intensely self-centred, impervious to outsiders.  He showed none of the sang froid he displayed during the financial crisis.  To be effective in crisis, leaders need to be calm and objective to take the right decisions.  In this instance, he was neither of these.

Government – PM Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon

 

Quote [91] – One Decent PM went to (mow) / visit congress

Speech to Congress (U.S)

“…So far, so good.  He now spoke out on climate change: ‘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.’  Some Republicans refused to applaud.

More audaciously still, he raised the banner of free trade, telling a sceptical audience that, ‘history tells us that, in the end’, protectionism  ‘protects no one’.”

“He knew his praise of Roosevelt and his New Deal and his extolling Obama for pursing similarly expansionary policies, would not receive universal applause.  Nor did they.  None the less, the speech was Brown at his oratorical best, and he knew at once that he had struck the right note.”

“In London his team in Downing street were glued to the television screen in the horseshoe.  Watching it they felt a huge sense of pride and admiration for him.  It was one of his very best moments as Prime Minister.”

Government – PM Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon

Quote [90] – One Egg One Basket – One UK Economy

The government may have been united about the need to stimulate the economy, but it was less clear about how it should respond to the rapidly deteriorating state of the public finances.  Britain’s comparatively narrow tax base saw the deficit soar when revenue from the City collapsed.  From at least the spring 2008, the Treasury had become alarmed about this. ‘We were continually surprised by just how big it was becoming,’ says senior official.  They had good grounds to be worried. Tax revenue – UK Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon

Quote [89] – Brown Government: Managed Communication – Long Terms Strategy

Blair’s Downing Street operation, with Powell and Campbell, as well as Anji Hunter and Sally Morgan, had once been derided by Brown’s team at the Treasury, but now it began to be spoken about wistfully, almost with awe.  The absence of a political chief of staff in Brown’s number 10 was felt particularly keenly.

Tom Scholar, who had joined the team in July, was much more comfortable as a principle private secretary than as a political enforcer.  He had neither an interest in nor the mandate for the latter role, and had been handicapped both by not being part of the transition team and his absence during Brown’s first weeks.  ‘It would have been crazy for Cameron not to have had his chief of staff by his side from day one.’ Says one adviser.  Worse Scholar was never given the authority by Brown to get on with the job, so never became properly established.

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
In November 2007, Pearce, at this time Brown’s education adviser, had absorbed the lessons of a report about the world’s most successful school systems by Blair’s head of delivery, Michael Barber.  The single most important factor in explaining the quality of a school system, it concluded, was the standard of teachers.

Pearce had visited Finland, home to one of the world’s leading school systems, and seen the force of Barber’s conclusion on the ground, reporting back his findings in a memo to Brown.

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
Instead of grasping the problem when it first developed, Brown had allowed Number 10 to descend into an internal briefing war.  Instead of backing Carter or sacking him, he took the coward’s way out and simply began to ignore him. Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
Office Layouts:

The horseshoe had significant benefits but also disadvantages.  Having all Brown’s senior people in one room close to him aided communication and ensured a rapid response – a regular problem with Number 10 up to that point.  On a deeper level, he picked up their positive energy, and this helped them to avoid being dragged down by his periodic negativity and despondency.

On the downside, it further institutionalised the number 10 teams reactive mindset, and did not assist the development of the longer-term thinking that was desperately needed.

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon