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BBC OnePanorama


Last Updated: Monday, 25 June 2007, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Trust Me, I'm Gordon - Not Tony
By John Ware

"I think at all times I've tried to be straight with the British people," Gordon Brown told BBC editors recently.

Gordon Brown MP
Gordon Brown is promising more open government
With his now frequent references to his "moral compass", he presents himself as a man driven by an acute moral imperative to rebuild trust in public life after the Blair years.

But how close is Mr Brown's relationship to the truth?

In raising this question I don't want to suggest he is some kind of unprincipled fibber.

But it is also true that he tends to obfuscate around the truth in a tight corner.

Swervy answers

Does this make him a credible champion of the "new politics" which he has used recently to try to restore trust in public life?

Bernie Ecclestone
Did Gordon Brown know if the Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone had donated money to Labour?
Here is a look back at some incidents in which Mr Brown's answers might be described as 'swervy'.

In July 1997 some market sensitive details were leaked to the Financial Times.

There was a Treasury inquiry. Suspicion fell on two of the Chancellor's two closest aides. No evidence was found against either.

This may explain the Chancellor's lawyerly denial: "There is no evidence there were any leaks and I think the idea that there were is completely wrong."

The leak itself was of course evidence that there had been one!

Straight question

It has been similarly impossible to get a straight answer to a straight question about whether he lied on the Today programme in 1997.

Did he know if the Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone had donated money to Labour?

The government was about to exempt Formula One from its election promise to ban tobacco advertising.

Mr Brown replied: "You'll have to wait and see like I'll have to wait and see..I've not been told and I certainly don't know what the true position is."

Although Mr Brown has insisted "I did not lie", our attempts to get him to answer the key question - did he know Bernie Ecclestone was a major Labour donor with a simple: "Yes" or "No" answer were unsuccessful.

Honest dialogue

On more bread and butter issues, the Treasury Select Committee's post mortem into his last budget might have been a good place to demonstrate that he means what he says about "open and honest dialogue" being a key part of restoring trust.

Robert Chote, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies told MPs about 5.3 million households would be worse off.

A senior Treasury official confirmed that Mr Chote's figures were "in the right ball park."

Maybe he is learning after all that candour can be a strength in politics
Even the Treasury's own press release acknowledged this. But when the 'Great Clunking Fist' showed up - as Mr Blair has only half jokingly described his Chancellor - he insisted: "I do not accept the conclusions you are trying to draw."

There was not much to concede. It is never possible to iron out all the bumps in a budget and anyway, it is not as if the losers were losing much.

But as the former Cabinet Secretary Sir Richard Wilson says, Mr Brown "defies contradiction".

He has also tried to create the illusion that his record spending on education is not over.

Old money

Last December, he and his spin doctors gave the impression that he was announcing 36bn of new capital investment in schools, colleges and universities.

In fact all but 150m turns out to be old money in the sense that it had already been announced or planned for.

Another way Mr Brown says he will "strive to earn your trust" is to make "government more open and accountable to parliament."

Yet Parliament has not exactly been the centre of his life in office having only voted in 14% of divisions.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson says he's noticed Mr Brown is beginning to give clearer answers to questions.

So maybe he is learning after all that candour can be a strength in politics.

Panorama: Trust Me, I'm Gordon - Not Tony - BBC One at 2030 BST on Monday 25 June

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