Category Archives: government

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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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

 

 

Quote [88] – Introduction To The Government of Gordon Brown

Thatcher cast a long shadow over her three successors, establishing in the mind of the public, as well the leaders themselves, the notion that a premiership, to be successful, has to have an intellectually coherent and distinctive personal agenda. Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
It is a Prime Minister’s performance in the domestic arena, however, which often most shapes the public’s view. Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
Oddly for a man who had been a senior government minister for so long he displayed little sympathy for, or interest in, motivating his Cabinet colleagues.  He made it all too clear that he was not interested in the great majority of them, nor did he make them feel that he valued or liked them.  He failed to understand that in the Whitehall system, Cabinet ministers drive policy; he failed to trust them, and tried to be effectively a departmental Minister from Number 10. Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
Brown, however, was not a bully, though many felt bruised and intimidated by him and his team.  His anger expressed his deep frustration with his own shortcomings.

His lack of self-confidence meant he relied heavily on the advice of others who were mentally tougher and surer of their opinions, notably Ed Balls and Shriti Vadera

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
His attempt in June 2007 to form an inclusive government was built on sand: barley anyone trusted him. ‘He was corrupted by his ambition to be Prime Minister and it distorted everything that he did and said.’ Says Tessa Jowell.  ‘Whether somebody is with me or not was all he cared about, and the Prime Minister cannot be like that.’ A retired Treasury mandarin speaks for many bruised officials: ‘As someone who had wrecked somebody else’s premiership, he was always going to have problems with his own.  His core failure was his inability to be a team player, his inability to share and his need always to be right – the clever boy in the class.’ Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon
“Effective leaders need to have a clear programme of action.  Brown only achieved this at an international level, and failed to explain to a domestic audience how his efforts on a global stage were addressing concerns at home.  His success as Prime Minister came when he was reacting to events, not when he outlined his own agenda for the future.”

“many of those who worked with Brown in Number 10 from June 2007 were astounded to find that ‘the cupboard was virtually bare.’  His determination to ascend to the Labour leadership unopposed in 2007 not only denied him a ‘mandate’, it also meant he had no requirement to set out his stall to his party or the wider electorate.  Petrified of losing the support of the Blairites on his right, and uncertain what his own centre-left domestic agenda would look like, he lurched from speech to speech, issue to issue and crisis to crisis.

Brown at 10 – Anthony Seldon

 

Quote [87] – Practical Continuity Of Government & Party Politics

For instance, despite the violent objections to the Lloyd George Insurance Act by the Conservative Party, it was ultimately accepted and even extended by them.  There are, of course, instances to the contrary, as when the Conservatives reversed the Trade Union Act  passed by the liberal government, and the Labour Party, in their turn, restored the situation – but this was a change in the law, not a change in the economic structure of the country.  I think there is danger here for the stability of the country, especially when the reversal is not based on the national needs but merely on the ideological prejudice of a party. As It Happened – C R Attlee

Quote [86] – An Active Proactive War Prevention Foreign Policy

Foreign Affairs are the province of the foreign secretary and it is, in my view, a mistake for a Prime Minister – save exceptional circumstances – to intervene personally. As It Happened – C R Attlee
‘If you have a good dog, don’t bark yourself’ is a good proverb, and in Mr.Bevin I had an exceptionally good dog.  On the other hand, I am quite opposed to leaving foreign affairs to be dealt with as something outside the ordinary business of Government, a mystery only to be touched by the initiates.

 

Bevin always stressed the point that prevention of war was not enough.  There must always be a positive policy of raising standards of living throughout the world so as to destroy the conditions in which Russian Communism thrives. As It Happened – C R Attlee

 

Quote [84] – Attlee, Ministers & Structuring The Executive

I had always felt the need for making very full use of senior non-departmental Ministers for the supervision of particular groups of Ministers and to have men in Cabinet free from absorption in departmental detail and available for considering major policy. As It Happened – C R Attlee

 

Nowadays, it is inevitable – if Cabinets are to be kept to a reasonable size – that important Departments should not be included.  In theory, I think, right that Ministers in charge if purely administrative Departments, such as the Post Office, Supply and Works, should not be in the Cabinet; but as far as possible they should have the same status and pay as their cabinet colleagues.

Of course, such ministers are summoned to Cabinet for particular items of business, but there is the danger that a Minister in charge of a department may feel himself left out of discussions on policy and, indeed, feel neglected.  To a large extent this was met by the development of a system of Cabinet Committees.

As It Happened – C R Attlee

 

“Two of my former Parliamentary Private Secretaries were included in the Government.”  “I therefore had to find someone else for this post, which is one of great importance.  It is essential for a Prime Minister to keep in touch with all members of the Party and to have early knowledge of currents of opinion.  This a wise Parliamentary Private Secretary can do. As It Happened – C R Attlee

Quote [82] – Government and A Dynamic Small Executive

 

  Excessive resort to committees tends to slow down action by discussion of matters which should be decided by Ministers themselves.  In fact, it may tend to a reluctance by Ministers to take decisions in matters within their own field As It Happened – C R Attlee

 

  I had long been persuaded that a small Cabinet was essential in time of war.  We started with five.  The subsequent numbers varied but never rose above eight. As It Happened – C R Attlee