BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC OnePanorama


Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Transcript: Trust Me, I'm Gordon...

Trust Me, I'm Gordon - not Tony

DATE: 25:06:07

JEREMY VINE: Hello, I'm Jeremy Vine and this is Panorama. Ten years ago Gordon Brown could only look on as Blair became Prime Minister. On Wednesday he takes over and he says it will all be different.

GORDON BROWN: It is about a different type of politics, a more open and honest dialogue.

VINE: Tony Blair also talked of a new politics just before he entered No.10...

TONY BLAIR: [1997 addressing public at election victory] A new dawn has broken, has it not?

VINE: But not in terms of trust it hadn't. If we're to believe Gordon Brown, though, spin is out, straight talking in.

BROWN: I think at all times I've tried to be straight with the British people.

VINE: But in government his clan has been spinning like a top.

CHARLIE WHELAN: I mean I shouldn't really have told you this, they'll go mental if anybody finds out I've told you. You wont breathe a word - you promise?

VINE: That's a clip Gordon Brown's team don't want you to see showing them trying to manipulate public opinion just as much as Blair's people used to, and yet Mr Brown wants us to believe that he's different. He's promising what he calls a new politics and to rebuild trust in government. But with his track record, is he really the man to trust?

JOHN WARE: The man about to become Prime Minister has been at the heart of public life for nearly a generation. But Gordon Brown is still a bit of a mystery. He's mostly known for running the economy which many think he's done pretty well. Whatever Mr Brown may have in store for us on policy, he's putting the rebuilding of trust in public life at the heart of his premiership.

GORDON BROWN: [Gordon Brown for Britain campaign, May 1997] I will strive to earn your trust, to earn your trust not just in foreign policy, but to earn your trust in our schools, in our hospitals, in our public services, and to respond to your concerns.

WARE: Trust is the ground on which Brown has chosen to distinguish himself from Blair.

CHARLIE WHELAN Gordon Brown's former spin doctor

Trust has broken down. Why? Because of Tony Blair, because of the Iraq War, because of the sexed up dossier, because we went to war on the basis of a lie, and that's where trust has broken down.

WARE: So when Gordon Brown talks about rebuilding trust in politics, is that code for Tony Blair is shifty, you can trust me to tell the truth?

WHELAN: Well it's hardly code, is it? It's pretty obvious that what he's saying is that trust has broken down but I'm not Tony Blair and I want to rebuild trust.

WARE: But compared to Blair, Brown's reliance on spin has, by and large, escaped close scrutiny these past ten years.

ROBERT CHOTE Director, Institute for Fiscal Studies

If you look, the Chancellor has employed some of the keenest, most aggressive, in some cases the most unpleasant spinners you could wish to find. So the idea that the last ten years the Prime Minister has been guilty of spin and the Chancellor has been innocent of it, just isn't backed up by reality.

WARE: Here's a rare glimpse of that reality, a Brown spinning operation in full swing.

We Are The Treasury STV, 1997

CHARLIE WHELAN: He's also probably going to announce to take away the banking supervision from the Bank and give it SIB. That's a very big story so.. you know, it'd be a good one for you.

VINE: Ten years ago Gordon Brown's press officer, Charlie Whelan, was happy for his compulsive spinning to be filmed. In this case, leaking the Chancellor's plans to end the Bank of England's role as financial regulator. This footage was shot with Mr Brown's permission. Unusually, the makers told us, the Treasury has a veto over the footage, we were denied permission to show it, a veto which tonight we're going to ignore precisely because of Mr Brown's new commitment to more open and honest dialogue.

CHARLIE WHELAN: [on telephone 'We Are The Treasury STV] I mean I shouldn't really have told you this, they'll go mental if anybody finds out I've told you. You wont breathe a word - you promise?

[to camera] He's an expert, John Fryer, so he's the man to do it, you know, he will say why it's a good idea. I shouldn't really have told him, mind.

WARE: Whelan was briefing the BBC's man ahead of Mr Brown's statement about the Bank of England, hoping to get favourable coverage. All politicians, understandably, want to get their message across, but this footage shows how the Brown team was priming friendly newspapers to head off any possible criticism from the Bank.

WHELAN: [ending telephone call with newspaper] ....It'll splash, the final edition Standard, which is what we want, which is what they want.

WARE: The Chancellor, though, is worried that the Bank will get their retaliation in first.

BROWN: [Confers with team - 'We Are the Treasury STV] What's gonna happen then, uh, Jill and Charlie. The story could easily become, if we don't watch: 'Bank attacks Labour move'.

WHELAN: Well the thing is, we'll make sure that people in advance know that isn't true.

BROWN: It's very important that the Bank does not start to sort of get a view across that this has been a sort of bad exercise.

VINE: Mr Brown needn't have worried, his spin operation delivered just the headlines he wanted.

[NEWS] The Chancellor of the Exchequer orders a major shake-up of the financial world to give investors greater protection.

JOHN SERGEANT: [Seen on television 'We Are The Treasury, STV] It was obvious there had to be this separation as soon as possible, so once they announced that the Bank was going to become more independent, this new regulatory regime they think followed automatically.

ED BALL: Sergeant did a great number on why we're doing this and why we couldn't announce it immediately. Sergeant bought the whole bloody lot. It's great.

WARE: The Brown team's ruthless determination to construct and defend his image has sometimes strained his relationship to the truth.

Today BBC R4, 2nd July 1997 It's budget day and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is later announce a cut in VAT on domestic fuel.

WARE: The details of budgets are meant to be secret, but on the morning of the new Chancellor's first budget, news bulletins picked up a major leak to the Financial Times.

Financial Times Article By Robert Peston, Edward Luce and Steve Thompson

Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, will today describe his first budget as a "five-year deficit reduction plan."

WARE: Just as the Chancellor said later.

GORDON BROWN: [speaking in the House] I am announcing today a five year deficit reduction plan.

WARE: The leak also contained market-sensitive details which budget secrecy is meant to protect.

[Article continues] It's most contentious measures are expected to include the abolition of the 20% tax credit on dividend payments.

We Are the Treasury STV, 1997

WARE: The Treasury began a leak inquiry. Suspicion fell on Mr Brown's two closest advisers, Ed Balls and Charlie Whelan.

You weren't the leaker?

CHARLIE WHELAN: I might well have been, I can't remember to be honest. It probably was me.

WARE: Or Ed Balls.

WHELAN: (laughs) I don't know. It could be Ed Balls, it could be me, I can't remember.

WARE: It must have been one or other of you.

WHELAN: I suppose so, yeah.

WARE: After the leak, Mr Brown and Mr Balls were questioned by MPs. Both denied their had been a leak, a position they maintain to this day.

15th July 1998

GORDON BROWN: I have got no knowledge that any evidence was found of any leaks.

WARE: No evidence of the leaker's identity may be, but the leak itself was of course evidence that there had been a leak. Unless you don't see a leak as... well...a leak, as apparently the Brown team didn't.

I'm pretty sure I read you saying that you quotes "openly leaked details of the budgets in your time."

WHELAN: Of course I did. I mean that was my job. I wouldn't call it leaks. You're briefing people what.. the sort of thinking the Chancellor and what's probably going to be in it.

WARE: You'd have done that, though, with the Chancellor's authority.

WHELAN: Of course, yes.

BROWN: As far as leaks of the budget were concerned, there is no evidence that there were any leaks, and I think the idea that there were is completely wrong.

WARE: Completely wrong? This is a classic example of the lawyerly approach that Gordon Brown sometimes takes in a tight corner. He tends to obfuscate around the truth as if he's trying to put his inquisitor off the scent, to the point where once it's said he even lied. In November 1997 the Government was about to exempt Formula 1 racing from its election promise to ban all tobacco advertising. This followed a secret one million pound donation to Labour from motor racing tycoon Bernie Eccleston. Mr Brown denied knowing anything about this at all.

Today BBC R4, 10th November 1997

Q: Did Bernie Ecclestone, the man behind Formula 1, did he make a financial contribution to the Labour Party?

BROWN: Well you'll have to wait and see like I'll have to wait and see when the list is published.

Q: Why? Why should we?

WARE: It's been alleged Mr Brown didn't have to wait and see because he knew the answer.

Q: Why should we wait and see?

BROWN: Because I've not been told and I certainly don't know what the true position is.

Q: Yes but shouldn't we know because.....

WARE: Many of those who've worked with Mr Brown are reluctant to talk about him - publicly at least. But sources both inside the Treasury and Downing Street at the time have confirmed to us that Mr Brown did know the one million pound donation had come from Bernie Ecclestone. One of our sources said: "There was a real moment of terror inside No.10."


Actual words of source spoken by an actor We were absolutely gob-smacked when we heard Gordon say this on Today. I remember saying to a senior official in No.10, that is a very unwise thing to say, given the number of people who know it not to be true. I remember thinking what on earth has he said that for? It was a brazen lie.

WARE: Not according to Mr Brown. He insists he's always been truthful.

BBC 21st September 2000

BROWN: I did not lie. I was asked: "Why should we wait and see?" I said: "I have not been told and do not know the true position."

WARE: We asked Mr Brown for a straight yes or no answer to the question he was asked ten years ago. Did he know there was a donation from Bernie Ecclestone. His spokesman referred us to his answer from this interview.

Channel 4 News 21st September 2000

Did you know that Bernie Ecclestone had given a sizeable donation and did you know it was a million pounds?

BROWN: I knew it was a sizable donation. We did not talk about the details of the finances.

WARE: This is a careful answer which still avoids committing Mr Brown to 'yes' or 'no' to the key question. Did he know if the sizable donation had come from Bernie Ecclestone. If he did know, then he did indeed lie on the Today Programme and wont make a clean breast of it. But if he didn't know, why can't he just say so? Mr Brown's evasions over the Ecclestone affair and the budget leak are at odds with the image he projects as a politician of moral incorruptibility.

BROWN: [ "Gordon Brown for Britain" campaign speech] For me my parents were, and their inspiration still is, my moral compass. It's a compass which has guided me through each stage of my life.

WARE: Brown has signalled that as Prime Minister, unlike Blair, he'll have nothing to do with the darker side of spin.

BROWN: [Gordon for Britain speech contd] It is about a different type of politics, a more open and honest dialogue, frank about problems, candid about dilemmas, never losing touch with the concerns of people.

WARE: This is not the first time Mr Brown has used Trust to try to demonstrate he's a pretty straight sort of politician. In the 1990s, trust in politics was in freefall because the Tories had broken their promise not to raise taxes. Mr Brown was scathing about how they'd tried to disguise this.

27th November 1996

BROWN: [speaking in the House] They've tried, of course, to perform the conjurer's trick of drawing attention to the things they want you to see, concealing what they don't want you to see, and this is the Tories all the time.

[Street conjuror] Take the ball and place it in the pocket. Now you know where the ball is, don't you, that's right, under the cuff.....

WARE: Beat that Mr Brown. In fact he did, he devised a new and improved version of the Tories' conjuring trick. He promised the electorate that under New Labour they wouldn't have to pay more income tax.

Out of the Shadows STV. 1997

BROWN: [Speaking on The World Tonight] It is because of the importance we attach to work, and because people have been dealt such a harsh blow over these last few years, that we will leave the basic rate of tax unchanged and we will leave the top rate of tax unchanged, and what I want to do.....

WHELAN: [Reading from newspaper] Perfect - exactly the message we wanted: "Brown aims a two year freeze on spending... Brown: ex-Tory cash... Labour to pledge two year's spending freeze... now we move straight on to tax. I mean they would have been gob-smacked when Gordon said on the Today Programme: "and yes, I can announce no tax increases."

[NEWS] Gordon Brown's tax and spending package announced today will be pulled together in a speech at this London conference centre this afternoon. It could well turn out to be the most significant speech of Labour's pre election campaign, and certainly the most significant of Gordon Brown's political career.

WARE: In power Mr Brown has kept his promise not to increase income tax, but his trick has been to keep our focus on the headline rate, whilst introducing a raft of stealthier tax rises, and for his last budget he had a new trick, a tax cut. It wasn't a tax cut.

21st March 2007

BROWN: [speaking in the House] I have one further announcement. With the other decisions I have made today, we are able to hold to our pledge made at the election not to raise the basic rate of income tax, indeed to reward work, to ensure working families are better off, and to make the tax system fairer, I will from next April, cut the basic rate of income tax from 22 pence to 20 pence.... [Cheers]

WARE: It certainly looked as if he'd cut taxes, at least, that's what David Cameron thought.

DAVID CAMERON: [speaking in the House] Mr Deputy Speaker, he has finally... he has finally given us a tax cut!

WARE: And a "big tax cutting budget" is how some papers headlined it...




WARE: ....but it wasn't. Mr Brown had given less prominence to what in effect was a tax rise, the abolition of the lowest tax rate.



WARE: It turned out this extra revenue will mostly fund his 2p tax cut. I asked one of Mr Brown's former cabinet colleagues why he conjures these illusions when he knows the true picture will emerge.


Actual words of source spoken by an actor

He feels that by the time they've unpicked a budget the impact's been made, the goodwill has been secured and the real analysis of the unpicking is sort of left to the small print, and the small change of politics. But actually it doesn't quite happen like that. You know, people are not so credulous to begin with, but secondly, they hear what is said afterwards and that makes them even more incredulous the next time.

WARE: Most issues in politics boil down to who's won and who's lost. The more cynical people become about the honesty of politicians, the more they value straight talking. Mr Brown says he values that too.

BROWN: [Gordon Brown for Britain campaign] For me the conversation with our country is just beginning. To build trust in our democracy I'm sure that we need a more open form of dialogue, for citizens and politicians to genuinely debate problems and solutions.

WARE: What will this more open form of dialogue sound like? Presumably not like the one Mr Brown had recently with MPs after his last headline grabbing budget. The Treasury's Select Committee tried to get to the bottom of how many had won and how many had lost. It's a straight enough question and the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies had the answer.

26 March 2007

ROBERT CHOTE, DIRECTOR, IFS: Probably have, on our estimates, about 5.3 million families losing in total.

WARE: One of Mr Brown's most senior officials agreed, though it obviously pained him to say so.

28th March 2007

MR FALLON: Mr Chote said 5.3 million families would be losers from the budget, that's right is it?

MARK NEALE Treasury Official

The figures that Robert Chote gave you are um... in the right ah... ballpark.

WARE: The next day the official was scheduled to appear alongside the Chancellor, but he'd vanished.

ROBERT CHOTE Director, Institute for Fiscal Studies

I hope that his failure to turn up wasn't punishment for having said that our figures were in the correct ballpark. After all, all he was doing was agreeing with the Treasury's own budget documentation.

WARE: In fact, this press release, published by Mr Brown's own department, the Treasury, contains the evidence about the number of losers. Though, as ever, you have to read it carefully. "Four out of households will be better or no worse off." Which means of course, that one in five households will be worse off. Well that's pretty clear. Or at least it was, until "the great clunking fist" showed up as Mr Blair has, only half jokingly, described the Chancellor.

29TH March 2007

Can you just explain to the committee that if the economy is doing well, why should there be any losers? Why should low earners lose?

BROWN: Well if you look at the three groups that we're talking about, I think we do not draw the conclusion that you're trying to draw. I don't think that at the end of the day that we will see the effects that you are saying because I believe that the take up of the working tax credit will grow.

WARE: And so it has. But so far at a rate that'll barely reduce the 5.3 million losers. All budgets have winners and losers, and on this occasion the losers didn't actually lose very much, but this chancellor has found it hard to concede any ground whatsoever.

CHOTE: I think particularly with this chancellor there is a reluctance to concede even the minorest criticism. I think the problem with that is that it just makes him look evasive and it makes... it undermines the arguments in favour of what was by and large a very sensible reform of the income tax and national insurance system.

BROWN: Hi, it's a lovely day, isn't it. It's great to see you.

SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: It's lovely to meet you.

BROWN: This is a wonderful school, I've been hearing all about it.

PRINCIPAL: It is a beautiful school.

WARE: It's only last Friday that Mr Brown finally came clean about the overall tax burden conceding that it had risen, which it has - significantly. These higher taxes have funded record increases on public services, but Mr Brown has been less than straightforward about the fact that the spending spree is over. In fact the way he's spun it, you'd think spending is still rocketing skywards.

SUN HEADLINES Chancellor's re-fit for 21,000 schools to cost billions BROWN'S CLASS ACT

"Gordon Brown will today commit billions to the biggest schools' refurbishment in history. He will vow to make facilities at 21,000 schools in England fit for 21st century learning."

WARE: It's clear Mr Brown's spin doctors briefed The Sun ahead of his speech. The paper had it almost word for word.

6th December 2006 BROWN: To ensure that all 21,000 schools and educational institutes are fit for 21st century challenges, I can announce that educational investment in our schools, colleges and....

WARE: The way Mr Brown presented this made it sound like a new multi billion pound programme for building, repairing and equipping schools and colleges.

BROWN: In the next four years, accumulative investment in education alone of 36 billions.

WARE: What?! Thirty-six billion of new investment in education over 4 years? Hardly.

13th December 2006

DAVID GAUKE, MP: Chancellor, this has all been announced before.


GAUKE: There's very little new money.

BROWN: I'm sorry...

GAUKE: This is what The Sun said the morning before...

BROWN: I'm sorry you can make...

GAUKE: Brown's class act, chancellor refit for 21,000 schools to cost billions - it's old, it's old money.

BROWN: It's not old money.

WARE: But it is mostly old money. Mr Brown had announced most of that 36 billion just 9 months earlier in his budget.

BROWN: [speaking in the House] So in the coming five years investment in schools will rise from 5.6 billions a year to reach 8 billions a year, a 50% rise making a total of 34 billion of new investment over five years. [Cheers]

WARE: Thirty-six billion for repairs to schools and universities and colleges over 4 years. Like his budgets, Mr Brown's spending plans can be notoriously complicated. But bear with me.

CHOTE: If you look at the small print you do get a rather different picture than you would do just listening to the speeches.

WARE: Indeed you do. It turns out there is not going to be one penny more for schools in Mr Brown's headline grabbing announcement than he'd already announced. There was just 50 million more for colleges and universities this year and 100 million more over the next four years. Not exactly what most people would call billions more.

GAUKE: The billions on capital had all been announced before. I mean you're the biggest spin merchant north of Shane Warne and you make the Prime Minister.... (Laughter) ... you make the Prime Minister look like Ashley Giles. Is there any wonder there's a lack of trust in politicians?

BROWN: Mr Chairman, we have just announced the biggest programme of educational investment in the history of the country. There is 10.2 billion for education by 2010/11, there is 8 billion for schools. We announced...

GAUKE: It's been announced before.

BROWN: No, it's not true.

WARE: But it is true. Not exactly the straight answer you might expect from a politician apparently resolved to break with spin. Mr Brown's had a good story to tell on education spending. It's as if he can't admit it's had to slow right down.

ROBERT CHOTE Director, Institute for Fiscal Studies

This sense of always coming up with the largest, most flattering sounding number, I think just feeds sometimes into the sense of cynicism that you can't really take at face value the exciting announcement that's made to get a good headline on day one, or as often the case in recent years, on day minus one, because the Treasury will have spun it before it's been announced, and that does give you a rather misleading picture. And whether it builds up trust in the longer-term I think is highly debatable.

WARE: The former Cabinet colleague I spoke to privately says that in some ways Brown has been more obsessed with spin than Blair.


Actual words of source spoken by actor

He has the absolute determination and obsession to get his words, his face, his sound bites on the television, a sort of competitiveness which you've never seen in a politician.

WARE: But the new Mr Brown says he sees a higher purpose for politics than winning at all costs.

BROWN: [Gordon Brown for Britain campaign] To those who feel Westminster is a distant place, and politics all too often a spectator sport, I will strive to earn your trust.

WARE: That's pretty rich say Gordon Brown's opponents. There are few, if any, in Parliament who've been more obsessed with winning every single point than him. Every shadow chancellor who's faced Mr Brown has told us that he's cast aside the normal courtesies between government and opposition which are there to facilitate informed and useful debate.

MICHAEL PORTILLO Former Shadow Chancellor

None of this with Gordon Brown, no relationship with the Shadow Minister whatsoever. Statements sent in my experience five minutes before they're delivered, even though they might be 40 pages long, and even so, with all the figures crossed out, so giving no opportunity whatsoever for the opposition spokesman really to engage with the debate, because everything that comes up is a surprise. But I think it's an indication of his character. He uses everything, every single device, in order to win.

WARE: The new Mr Brown says he'll revive, not stifle, parliamentary debate.

BROWN: [Gordon Brown for Britain campaign 1997] One of my first acts as Prime Minister would be to restore power to Parliament in order to build the trust of the British people in our democracy. Government must be more open and more accountable to Parliament.

WARE: Why then has Parliament not been at the centre of Mr Brown's life in government? He's voted just 14% of the time, well short of his predecessor Ken Clark's 67% showing. Mr Brown's new enthusiasm for debate may perplex those who've worked closely with him, especially the former Cabinet Secretary who'd likened him to Stalin for the way he defies contradiction. This footage the Brown team didn't want you to see shows more than a hint of that.

We Are the Treasury STV, 1997

BROWN: I'm really worried about this paper because this is just an invitation for people to open up every spending issue that I think I could have closed down by tomorrow afternoon to...

WARE: The topic was the spending aspirations of his Cabinet colleagues, Mr Brown was clearly very irritated. His contribution to the debate was to kill it.

BROWN: You can't expect the Home Office not to speak to the Home Office proposal, or Meacher not to speak on his environmental proposal, or David Blunkett not to take up his 10 top-up proposal. I mean this is going to be endless this debate. I mean I think I could have... we could have killed this by just telling people we've been through it all, we've looked at all these options, this is simply not possible.

WARE: That was the private side of our next Prime Minister. How does this square with the new public one that says: "I want to learn and listen."

BROWN: [Gordon Brown for Britain] For me the weeks of this campaign are a chance to discuss new ideas, but also, as we listen, to learn what needs to change. I want to lead a government humble enough to know it's place.

WARE: Those former senior officials I've spoken to say Mr Brown doesn't do 'humble', and they're sceptical that a man who is so defensive and who has form for conjuring illusions will restore trust in British politics.


Actual words of former senior official spoken by an actor

Brown can't admit he's wrong because to him it shows weakness, and if he does that, in his mind, then the whole world will come tumbling down.

WARE: But if Mr Brown can't see there is strength in candour, does his new politics amount to anything very much, or is it just more spin? We'd liked to have discussed all this with him, but he preferred not to. This week the country gets a new Prime Minister, but will we really get a new Mr Brown?

VINE: John Ware reporting. Gordon Brown, of course, becomes Prime Minister on Wednesday. We'll see how new the new Prime Minister's new politics really are.


Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific