BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Sunday, 4 May 2008 12:06 UK

'I feel the hurt'

On Sunday 04 May Andrew Marr interviewed The Prime Minister

The Prime Minister says he understands people's anxieties but insists: 'we can come through these difficult economic times'.

Gordon Brown MP
The Prime Minister

ANDREW MARR: Now history suggests that no Prime Minister has ever recovered from such a bad set of results.

And if Gordon Brown is going to have any chance at all of winning the next election and many within his own party agree there has to be serious change.

Even his closest ally Ed Balls admitted the poll disaster couldn't be dismissed as the usual mid-term blues. But what or who needs to change?

The Prime Minister is here now.

GORDON BROWN: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: Good morning Prime Minister. You're in a hole?

GORDON BROWN: We've had a difficult time, it's been a bad night, it's not been the best weekend let's say.

But you know you're tested in leadership by how you deal with adversity.

And as I've gone round the country and talked to people, what people are most worried about and I do understand this and I feel the hurt that they feel, petrol prices going up, food prices have gone up, they're worried about the utility bills, they're worried about the standard of living, there's an uncertainty about the economy. Now, I've dealt with some of these problems before when I've been Chancellor, and we've got to show people that there is a clear and unequivocal direction, that we have an economic plan to take us through these things.

And of course there's the other big issues and we'll come to that in a minute. But people's immediate priority is how we deal with the family budget and the problems that people face as a result of what is an economic downturn that started in America, and my first focus and my immediate priority is making sure that we come through what is this difficult economic time which is causing, I think, so much anxiety and insecurity in the country.

ANDREW MARR: Before we focus on the economy and I do want to do that, can you possibly recover from this position as a party? It's never happened before, your MPs are despairing.

GORDON BROWN: Of course we can recover from this position and I'll tell you how. First of all by sorting out the immediate problem of the economy and showing people we can come through as we have in the past, very difficult economic times. Secondly, by showing people that we have the vision of the future that will carry this country, optimistically in my view, into its next phase.

And that's all about chances, opportunities, a fair deal for working families, helping people get on the rung of the housing ladder, helping people get opportunities in education, more universities and more colleges and so on. The big building blocks of the future that we're putting in place.

ANDREW MARR: And if people were listening to those messages you wouldn't have got 24 per cent in the local elections?

GORDON BROWN: I think what's happened is that people need to know that we've got an unequivocal and strong sense of direction about how we're going to deal with the problems ahead.

ANDREW MARR: But you've been saying this and they're not listening to you, or they don't believe you, something therefore has to change.

GORDON BROWN: Look, what's happened over the last few months, and I've been very free and open in admitting we've made mistakes over the 10p tax rate, is that people have also found that their economic circumstances have been changing. They're asking us big questions about how we can come through this difficult time. I understand that, look, ...

ANDREW MARR: Can I just go back over what you've said. I mean when it comes to food prices, when it comes to petrol prices, when it comes to the cost of mortgages, candidly there's nothing you can do about that.

GORDON BROWN: Of course we're doing things. We're intervening in the housing market to help first time buyers, we've intervened to get liquidity into the banks. We're intervening obviously to help small businesses get funds through the small business loan guarantee fund and everything else.

We are taking action and we're taking action internationally. Look, you go through these phases in the economy where people are uncertain about what is going to happen. People's anxieties rightly grow as a result of what they see round the world. Now I'm not saying that's the only issue that's worrying people because I said I wanted to come onto the other issues.

But it's undoubtedly the case going round the country that there's a sense of hurt and there's a sense of feeling about what is happening to my daily budget, what's happening to the bill at the supermarket, what's happening to the cost of living?

ANDREW MARR: So it's a question of....

GORDON BROWN: And we have got to show, as we've done in the past, that we can come through this difficult economic times, make sure that people feel safer in their jobs and their mortgages, and make sure also that people know that the economic plan that we have for the future is taking us out of the downturn and preparing for the upturn.

ANDREW MARR: These are the worst results that anyone can record or remember for a party in power. If the message is we've got to hang on until the economy gets better.

GORDON BROWN: But that's not...

ANDREW MARR: It's a council of despair.

GORDON BROWN: But that's not the message at all. The message is that we have an economic plan for taking us through these difficult circumstances. The message is also...

ANDREW MARR: Is the economic plan any different today than it was a week ago?

GORDON BROWN: Of course, we're looking at what we can do.

ANDREW MARR: In what way?

GORDON BROWN: Because we're looking all the time at what we can do in the housing market, we're looking all the time at what we can do to help small business get the funds that are necessary.

ANDREW MARR: Have you got ideas to bring in that we haven't heard before?

GORDON BROWN: You will see, you will see announcements in the next few weeks about what we can do in these areas to help people. Because we are determined that we will lead this country through these difficult economic circumstances and show people that while the recession in America is hurting people even harder, we can help people through these difficult times.

Now I'm not for one moment denying that there are other issues we've got to deal with. There are issues about the Health Service, there's issues about value for money in the public services, there are issues about how we prepare our country for all the future challenges ahead.

And I understand all these things but as I said, and I think I repeat the immediate priority must be to make sure that people can see that we are helping this country through these difficult times. And you know there is a choice between intervening to get things right and between what in a sense is what the Conservative party is saying, that they would just walk away from these problems and leave people defenceless against them.

ANDREW MARR: To sum up those other issues, what people seem to be saying is they simply don't think the country's being run very well. You don't have money left to help people out in really hard circumstances, to actually cut taxes because you've spent so much and borrowing is so high. As they feel, sorry, in the Health Service and elsewhere, that a lot of money has been wasted.

GORDON BROWN: Well I just don't accept your first point. It is because we've run the public finances as well and have got low debt that unlike other countries we're able to borrow in this period of economic difficulty to see us through. It is because inflation is relatively low compared with other countries...

ANDREW MARR: You've got no money to help all those people who are hurting?

GORDON BROWN: We'll be able to cut interest rates. We have been able to show over these last few months that we're able to borrow more and therefore continue our spending plans through these difficult economic circumstances.

I don't think that in a sense is the issue, I mean the economy has been well run for the last 11 years. The economy has created more jobs than any other economy.

ANDREW MARR: Can I just stop you on the economy for one minute.

GORDON BROWN: ...but I accept there are issues that are going to be dealt with including issues about value for money, and that's what we're going to do.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's just continue with the economy for one further round, which is that a lot of people would say actually what's happened over the last ten years is we've had a huge boom on the back of vastly inflated housing prices, and unsustainable personal borrowing, and as Chancellor you never tried to stop that happening. You went along for the ride and you didn't warn people. And that's what's gone wrong now.

GORDON BROWN: It's quite the opposite. We've had low inflation over the last ten years that has given us low interest rates and high levels of growth in the economy.

And it's because we took the difficult decisions to tackle the inflation problem in the British economy, the inflation problem that was bequeathed to us by our predecessors, that we have been able to grow and create three million jobs in the British economy over these last 11 years. Now, we can have a debate about the economy.

The issue at the moment of course is to come through these difficult times, and as you rightly say also, in the Health Service, it is to show we've got value for money. That's why, for example...

ANDREW MARR: But what can you do that you haven't done before?

GORDON BROWN: Well that's why for example we forced the issue of GP access, we've had a debate with the GPs about weekend and evening opening. In hospitals we've forced the issue about cleaning up with MRSA and deep cleans and doubling the number of matrons.

In housing we've forced the issue about building more homes for more first-time buyers. In education we're forcing the issue about education to 18, a university in every town or college in every town and city, making sure that people have a fair chance to get on in this new global economy, you see, I'm optimistic about the future.

ANDREW MARR: If you've done all these things Prime Minister, then why are people deserting you?

GORDON BROWN: Because we're going through a very difficult economic time.

ANDREW MARR: It's all the economy?

GORDON BROWN: The government has admitted, as I have, that in certain cases we've made mistakes that we're correcting.

And I think as people see us coming through the difficult economic times and then see, as we'll be publishing in the next few weeks, our plans for the future in housing, in health and education, and on the constitution. They'll see we've got a plan and a programme for the future. Now just let me finish this one thing.

The reason I'm optimistic about the future of Britain in a time when newspapers are writing in a very pessimistic way, is that if we make all these right decisions about the future, on housing, on planning, on nuclear energy, on skills and on science, then Britain will be better prepared to make its way in this world.

Because we are unlocking the talent of the people of this country, and if anything motivates me in politics it's this. When I see potential unrealised and talent unfulfilled, and opportunity denied, that's where we've got to be and it's the right economic future as well as the right way of dealing with opportunity in our society.

ANDREW MARR: This is what you've been doing and this is what you've been saying for a long time, and the country is deserting you.

GORDON BROWN: I don't accept that.

ANDREW MARR: Were you shocked or surprised at these results?

GORDON BROWN: What we've got is a set of election results that we can look at in some detail. I think myself that it's reflecting people's worries about the economy, people sense that we have made mistakes on, for example, the 10p rate...

ANDREW MARR: Any others, can I just stop you there, any other mistakes?

GORDON BROWN: Well, I think myself if I was to be, look back on the last year, I mean I let speculation about the general election go too long, I've admitted that that was a problem that I think was there.

Perhaps I've spent too little time thinking about how we can get our arguments across to the public. And now of course I think people are saying, look can you show us that you can come through these difficult situations. And I believe we will.

ANDREW MARR: What your MPs say is perhaps that you've spent too much time on the fine detail, sitting up late at night with the detail, and not enough on presenting the simple big picture which people are not hearing?

GORDON BROWN: Well the big picture is this, that I want to respond to people's desire for a fair chance in our society. I want to respond to people's desire that there is fairness all round and that's what motivates me in politics and when you go round the things that are happening in this country you know there is so much still to do.

And we're building on success, we created stability in the economy now we've got to make sure we come through the difficult times. We've taken a lot of people out of poverty, there's a lot more still to do. We've created a lot of opportunities for people to get to college and university. I want to back aspiration and back opportunity and back the ambition of people in this country and that's what our education and our policy for helping small businesses, and that's what our policy of course for helping employment opportunities all about as well.

ANDREW MARR: What's your take on Boris Johnson?

GORDON BROWN: Well of course I wish him well as Mayor and congratulate him on his election.

ANDREW MARR: What do you think of him?

GORDON BROWN: Can I just say, if you're raising the question of Mayor of London, I do think we owe some gratitude to Ken Livingstone for helping us win the Olympics and for what he did on transport and housing, and of course in cutting crime in London. And of course the test now is how Boris Johnson will do. And I think that's the test for the Conservative Party.

ANDREW MARR: What do you make of him?

GORDON BROWN: Well, that's the test for the Conservative Party as a whole. You know there's a very good set of salesmanship around that is quite slick and it's quite impressive in its salesmanship. But where's the substance, and what's what we've got to see.

I think, I think you'll see me in the next few months, I'll be taking the fight to the Conservative Party because there is a choice here, there is a choice between a government like ours that is prepared to take action on behalf of hard-working families as we're doing on housing, as we're doing on education, and at the same time a Conservative Party that would walk away and leave people defenceless as they did in the early 1990s when we had that recession...

ANDREW MARR: Well people don't think that about David Cameron do they?

GORDON BROWN: ...and I think that is the choice, well look what they did on Northern Rock, they just walked away. Look about education to 18, they don't support it. Look what they've done on Sure Start, the children's centres, they're against that now.

ANDREW MARR: They see ...

GORDON BROWN: ... school building programme. Now all these things...

ANDREW MARR: People at the moment see a moderate, fresh-faced, rather centrist looking leader, a little bit it might be said like Tony Blair back in the mid 1990s, and they like the look of him.

GORDON BROWN: And they'll have to look at whether the Conservative Party has really changed and whether there is substance in what the Conservative Party are offering. But every time the Conservative Party are tested, as they were on Northern Rock, as they are on what they're going to do on education or housing or health where they're not in favour of GP access being extended - they want to leave that decision to the GPs themselves.

Every time they're tested it looks as if there's a tension between what they want to say to the electorate, what they want to say is we're middle of the road and everything else, and what they really believe. And when they have a programme for ten billions of tax cuts that would mean massive spending cuts in the economy.

And I think when the choice is between the Conservatives and Labour, and it's not just a referendum on the government, it will become very clear. And I relish over the next few months taking the fight to the Conservative Party and showing that there's a real choice in this country about the direction in which we're going.

ANDREW MARR: But before that happens do you expect to face a leadership challenge?

GORDON BROWN: No, I don't think so because I think we get on with the job.

ANDREW MARR: What's your message to those MPs who are saying in today's papers it's time for leadership change?

GORDON BROWN: I don't think that many MPs are saying that, and also at the same time I think the key issue is how can we come through the current economic challenges that face the country and I believe I'm the best person to take the country with Alistair Darling our Chancellor through these challenges.

How can we build for the future and I believe I'm setting down the policies that are the right policies for the future, and you'll see over the next few weeks on all the different issues how we are setting out the policies for the future.

I believe that when the choice is there between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party and people are looking at the Conservative policies, what they actually are saying, not just the salesmanship but what they're actually saying, then I think they'll be very clear that Labour is the party on the side of hardworking families. And, what brought me into politics was a desire to help people through difficult situations and that's what we're going to do.

ANDREW MARR: Would it not be the really brave thing to look in the mirror and say it's time to step aside and let somebody else take this job on?

GORDON BROWN: No, because there's a job to do and I've just explained what the job is.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, but it doesn't necessarily mean, with respect, that you're the man to do it?

GORDON BROWN: But take, for example, housing. We want to build, I made a decision that we've got to build three million more houses over the next period of time because there is a shortage of housing. It's unfair that young people cannot get on the housing ladder. I'm going to do something about it.

[talking over each other]

Go through all the issues, we're setting down the policies that are necessary for the future and I'm going to see these through.

ANDREW MARR: If those policies were working you would be doing better in the country. Is there not a Gordon Brown problem there, that you have to acknowledge and confront?

GORDON BROWN: I think it's true that I'm a more private person in a public arena, and perhaps I've spent too much time as you've said yourself, looking at the detail of solving people's problems.

But to solve people's problems you've got to understand their problems and I think if I communicate to people that going round the country, you know I am listening to what people are saying and I've heard what people have said and continue to do so. But you know I come from a pretty ordinary background, I mean you know we as a family felt the pinch when things were wrong.

We as a family felt under pressure when the economy was going through difficult times. I understand what people are thinking and I understand what people are feeling. And I believe that I'm the right person to take the country through these difficult times.

ANDREW MARR: Are you going to change anything about yourself, the way you approach the job as a result of what's happened last week?

GORDON BROWN: Well I'm getting out round the country, you'll find me going round the country far more often.

Of course I've been doing it over the last few months but I think it's more important to get out there, to be there in the country listening to what people say.

And I think you'll find that the policies that we're putting forward, which we've been working on for some months, about the next stage of our programme, are policies about how we can build a better future for the country.

So we've got to come through the downturn and then we've got to prepare, if you like, for the next stage of Britain's development as a country where on all the range of issues that concern people we have new policies for the future.

ANDREW MARR: Did you feel personally chastened about what happened?

GORDON BROWN: Of course. And I feel responsible and there are no excuses on my part at all. But I think once you've looked at the raw figures you've then got to understand what's happening.

And I feel very sorry for very good Labour councillors who lost their seats and I do want to say how much I appreciate the work that they have done. But once you look at what's happened on the results you've then got to look what's behind it, and what's behind it is people's concerns. They want to know that we've got a clear and unequivocal sense of direction when it comes to dealing with the economic problems ahead of us.

And they want to know that we've got a plan for the future of this country that can unlock the talent of British people. And it's about my motivation which is my sense that we've got to be, give people a fair deal, give people a fair chance.

That's really the solution also to the economic and social challenges ahead of us, to build a country where we unlock the talent and potential of our people in such a way that we can be one of the great successes both economically and socially of the next few years.

ANDREW MARR: Are you physically tough enough for this? People, a lot of people have said you look very, very tired, you're not getting enough sleep?

GORDON BROWN: I don't think I look that tired at all because I do work hard, I do try to keep fit.

ANDREW MARR: Do you work too hard?

GORDON BROWN: I have got young children.

ANDREW MARR: Do you work too hard?

GORDON BROWN: Of course I work hard. I'm not saying I work too hard.

ANDREW MARR: Too hard?

GORDON BROWN: I doubt if I work too hard. Lots of people work very hard and in this job you've got to get on with the detail, and there's dozens indeed scores of decisions that come across your desk every day and you've got to deal with them.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think that when you are looked at by people, I'm going to put this gently, people say you're a bit strange, you're not like them, you are a workaholic, old-style politician who doesn't empathise in the sort of sofa television way that people now expect?

GORDON BROWN: Well I come from a pretty ordinary background. I think, you know, the people I grew up with, the people that are still friends of mine, the people I was at school with, you know, I think that's the people that really represent the people of the whole of the country.

And you know we're talking about things, we're talking about sports, we're talking about everything that's going on in our country and I think, you know, the real me is someone who understands at root all the challenges that ordinary families face. And you know that's why I understand when people are hurting as a result of finance, the household finances and the bills at the supermarket and everything else.

And I also, I think, understand people's worries about immigration and about crime and the need for neighbourhood policing, and the need to have a points system on immigration. I think I do understand where people come from because, you know, I come from that sort of background myself.

ANDREW MARR: You thought, it's no secret, that Tony Blair was a bit slick and a bit too much the actor. Do you now see that he maybe had a point?

GORDON BROWN: Tony Blair I've always said was a great Prime Minister and did a wonderful job, not just for the Labour Party but for the country.

Look, I'm not the same as Tony Blair, I'm a more private person as you rightly say, but I also recognise in this job people have got to know who you are, it's an open book, where do you come from, what do you believe in, what are you about?

And you know and what I'm about is better opportunities for every single family in this country. And that's what I'm determined to achieve. And if I go, you know, everything I do in politics is about that.

ANDREW MARR: And there's no part of you at all, at any stage in this process, that thought maybe, maybe, I'm not the right man for this job?

GORDON BROWN: Look, leadership as I said at the beginning is tested by what happens, not in the best of times...

ANDREW MARR: But in the worst of times?

GORDON BROWN: ...what happens when things are difficult. And I think you'll find that I'm resolute and determined and I've got conviction and ideas, and I'm not going to be put off by a few days' headlines, from the job that I'm determined to do for this country. And my determination is not just in the short term to see people through the difficult circumstances phase, but to build a stronger country for the long term.

A stronger and fairer country, and this is the age when unlocking the potential of people of this country through education and enterprise and new chances in employment is the key to our economic future as well. And I believe that what motivates me is what is necessary for this country to be successful in the future.

ANDREW MARR: And to all those Labour MPs who say that's very impressive, and that's moving, but the truth is we're finished, it's over, and there is no realistic way back from this poll position with the short-term...

GORDON BROWN: Look Andrew, John McCain was written off in America last summer and now he's the Republican candidate. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have gone from lows to highs.

In politics at the moment you can look round the world, every government is under pressure, every government because of what's happening to the world economy.

They have not created the problems as we have not created the problems. But we're having to deal with these problems. Every government's under pressure, everyone's got low ratings as a result of that, because people are ...

ANDREW MARR: Perhaps everyone's going to get kicked out in due course as well.

GORDON BROWN: Because people are asking the question "can you deal with the problems that are faced at the moment". And when a problem comes people ask rightly the question, it takes time to show people that you've got the answers.

ANDREW MARR: Can you get through the next few weeks? You've got a very difficult parliamentary Labour Party but you've got a very difficult by election in two weeks, how important is it to win that by election?

GORDON BROWN: Well of course...

ANDREW MARR: If you lose the by election well that's it?

GORDON BROWN: Look of course you've got all these issues coming up one way or another. We've got a vote on the 42 days in the House of Commons.

ANDREW MARR: Are you sticking on that?

GORDON BROWN: Of course.

ANDREW MARR: You're not moving?

GORDON BROWN: Of course, because it's the right thing for the country, it's the right thing and I think the other parties will regret what they've done, to make sure that we're properly protected against terrorism. And I've said that we will defend the civil liberties of every citizen, you know I've got a basic faith in liberty of the fundamental basis of our constitution.

But having made sure that there is no arbitrary treatment possible for an individual it is right to take the precaution that we may need longer in what are very sophisticated investigations, to detain people with a view to charging them, that is an important point I think, about how we as a nation balance the needs of liberty and security.

ANDREW MARR: And on the 10p issue, Frank Field says you need to do more, you need to have a much clearer package?

GORDON BROWN: I think Frank Field was satisfied with the letter that Alistair Darling wrote to the Treasury Select Committee.

ANDREW MARR: He doesn't sound very satisfied this morning.

GORDON BROWN: No, I think he is satisfied with the letter he wrote to the Select Committee that said we will deal with these too. Look, nobody's suggesting the 10p rate be brought back.

Not any of the opposition parties, not Frank Field. He knows as I know that it was a transitional measure until we introduced the lower rate income tax, and the tax credits that are the basis of taking thousands, indeed millions of families out of poverty.

The key to tackling low income in this country is the child tax credit and the pension credit, and the working tax credit. Now we made two mistakes as I've readily admitted. First, dealing with the 60-64 year olds and then dealing with a group of the low income households that are not within the working tax credit. These are the issues that we're rectifying and Frank knows that from the letter to the Select Committee.

ANDREW MARR: And is there going to be a sort of simple comprehensible deal to help those people?

GORDON BROWN: Well, that's what Alistair Darling is looking at the moment. I mean tax is a very complex issue as you know, but we think we can do something for the 60-64 year-olds and we think we can help the low paid.

ANDREW MARR: What have you learned, yourself, about yourself, from the last week?

GORDON BROWN: That you've got to be resilient in the face of difficulties.

ANDREW MARR: But you knew that.

GORDON BROWN: You've also, I think, got to understand and understand very clearly how people are seeing things. You know, I talked to you know, the leaders round the world, they're in exactly the same position at the moment where there's an economic problem that's hitting on people.

ANDREW MARR: Is the real Gordon Brown available for people to discover?

GORDON BROWN: I think I am someone who believes passionately in opportunity and fairness. I believe that over the last ten years I've shown that I can take people through difficult circumstances including economic problems.

And I believe that the real Gordon Brown is someone who is standing up at all times for hardworking families in this country. And that's what makes me tick, that's what I'm about. That's what the dividing line is in politics.

ANDREW MARR: And are you now in politics the underdog?

GORDON BROWN: If we're the underdog we're certainly fighting and we're fighting hard, and we're fighting standing up for people facing difficulties, standing up for what

I believe and what I believe is an opportunity for every citizen in this country that should be greater than it is at the moment, and standing up against a Conservative Party that looks like slick salesmen but actually don't have the answers to the real challenges this country's facing. So that's a choice the country will face over the next few years.

ANDREW MARR: All right, Gordon Brown, fighting underdog, thank you very much indeed.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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