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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 09:12 GMT
Jon Sopel interview
Please note BBC Politics 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.

On Politics Show, Sunday 05 March 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • Gordon Brown MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Gordon Brown

Interview with Gordon Brown

GORDON BROWN: I think this is one of the most difficult areas of Leicester. It's a school that had been failing.

A community centre that had been run down and now you see, because of the enthusiasm of a number local leaders, and then local young people, things are on the move again.

And I think this could happen right across the country.

There's a civic spirit in this country, we need to build a stronger civic culture, and we need to address you know, some of the big, big challenges, and one of them is the disengagement of young people, the sense that we, we don't do enough for them, just as we feel that perhaps young people don't feel committed enough to be part of their communities in a positive way.

JON SOPEL: What about making teenagers feel more involved by say, I don't know, giving sixteen year olds the vote. What do you think?

GORDON BROWN: But that is an issue that's been raised by the by the Power Commission. I think you've got to look at it, I'm open to this, but I think you've got to look at it, is citizenship education in the curriculum going to be good enough.

Do we have community service programmes for young people so that citizenship actually means something as well as just having the vote. And if we can do better in these areas, then I think you could make a decision about voting, but we've got to improve citizenship education in the schools, and we've got to offer young people more challenges about involving themselves in the community, and I think that's the starting point of a debate about treating young people as full citizens with rights and responsibilities.

JON SOPEL: So, at the next election, it's unlikely to be in your manifesto that sixteen year olds will get the vote, it's something further down the road.

GORDON: BROWN: I - look, this has been a debate that's been going on since we had the vote at eighteen. We cannot conclude that the vote at eighteen stopped young people from being disengaged, so we've got to recognise that the vote itself, did not stop the disengagement of young people, but I think we do know from some evidence, that if young people are involved in citizenship in their curriculum in the schools, that they take a bigger interest in, in public affairs, and we know from 'Make Poverty History', last year, I was involved with lots of young people in 'Make Poverty History', we know from the response I saw today, from the National Community Youth Service initiative that we are taking, that young people do want to be engaged.

JON SOPEL: You talked about volunteering, so does David Cameron talk about volunteering, the Liberal Democrats talking about volunteering to some extent. I mean, where is the dividing line between you and say David Cameron on this. Are you all singing the same song.

GORDON BROWN: (overlaps) Well to, to to to be fair, I think er, people do acknowledge that my first proposal on this was in the early 1990s, I did also suggest a green core of young people as part of the new deal, and I think we're building to a situation where lots of companies in this country, want to contribute to these projects, so it is a big, a big difference. Now, what's the dividing line.

We are prepared to spend some public money to make this happen. We don't see voluntary service as some cut price alternative to proper provision for health care or for education, it's got to be a partnership between the voluntary sector and probably local authorities in this, and I do see citizenship as absolutely crucial in terms of rights and responsibilities.

JON SOPEL: You've also talked about handing power down from government to local councils, from local council maybe to small communities like this. Is this the same chancellor that introduced public service agreements, uniformity of standards, national targets. I mean it sounds like a bit of a damascene conversion)

GORDON BROWN: Well I, I, I think as you probably know, was one of the big sponsors of devolution right in the beginning, in the 1970s, even before I was a Labour candidate. I devolved power ...

JON SOPEL: You're also known as a bit of a ...


JON SOPEL: ... controlling.

GORDON BROWN: I think that's wrong. I devolved power from the Bank of England, with the independence of the Bank of England. I gave away power when I came in to the Treasury, and we continue to give away power. And if the 20th century was actually about government taking power from vested interests, who were not delivering for the people of the country, I think the 21st century is going to be about power going to people, so that they can manage a whole range of services, on their own.

JON SOPEL: And you talk about giving away powers, and you talk about giving power to the Bank of England. I mean what about, you've talked also about giving power to patronage over the appointment of Bishops you know, away from the Prime Minister. What about the monetary policy committee. Shouldn't the Treasury Select Committee appoint that, so it doesn't seem, it's not seen to be the Chancellor doing that.

GORDON BROWN: Well, we, we, we made a big change when we gave up the Treasury's power to set the interest rate. The Monetary Policy Committee is scrutinized by the, by the Treasury Select Committee. You could actually er, go further and that's something that obviously you could look at over time. At the ..

JON SOPEL: (interjects) Would you be in favour of it.

GORDON BROWN: Well, see the moment, and let's be clear. At the moment, most of the members of the Monetary Policy Committee are in fact officials of the Bank of England. Certainly the Governor and the Deputy Governors are chosen by the government of the day, but others are officials, chosen by the Bank of England, and I think you'd have to satisfy yourself that you've got the balance right, between the public accountability that's necessary and the competence and efficiency in delivering an interest rate policy that's in the interests of the, the whole country. You've got to be sure that it's not going to be high jacked by interest groups; that it's got to actually reflect the public need for stable monetary policy.

JON SOPEL: But talking about constitutional issues, is there a constitutional issue in having a Scottish Prime Minister.

GORDON BROWN: Er, Tony Blair is born as Scot.

JON SOPEL: But he does - he represents ..

GORDON BROWN: Menzies Campbell has just become Leader of the Liberal Party.

JON SOPEL: (overlaps) .. he represents an English constituency. No, no, the point, the key point there is that they, Tony Blair represents an English constituency so that most of the legislation that gets passed at Westminster, affects his constituents. When you become Prime Minister, most of the legislation concerning schools, concerning the Health Service, will not affect your constituency in Kirkcaldy.

GORDON BROWN: But, but we are a Union, er, er, I don't think there can be any constitutional or other barrier on any par, par, person from the United Kingdom becoming the, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Whether it affects me, or affects anybody else, because we're part of the Union. Devolution is within the Union of the United Kingdom, and the idea that you have second class citizens in one area of the United Kingdom, as against another, would be unacceptable to most people who, who, who think about the future of the United Kingdom. So you ...

JON SOPEL: (interject) I have to say that ...


GORDON BROWN: ... You can't then draw that conclusion.

JON SOPEL: ... I have to say that at the Politics Show there's one subject we get letters on more than any other. Admittedly, from English viewers, is the whole question of this democratic deficit. That you get legislation being passed, could be passed in the future, by you as Prime Minister, which just will not affect your constituents. You couldn't imagine a situation where ...


JON SOPEL: ... an MP from Surrey is running the Scottish parliament.

GORDON BROWN: But look, it's always been true that you've had a Union of different countries. You have Scotland, England and you've now Northern Ireland, and of course, and of course Wales. And we're all part of one union. At the end of the day, we're all part of the same union. Now if you create different rights at Westminster for different, for different MPs, I think you're actually putting the union at risk, and I'm proud to be both Labour and a Unionist party, and I think those who put the Union at risk, and say they're - are Unionists, are making a great mistake.

JON SOPEL: So there is no constitutional issue whatsoever in this.

GORDON BROWN: I don't think there's a constitutional er issue at all in this because we're all citizens of the United Kingdom.

JON SOPEL: Okay. What about let's move on to the reform agenda that you say you want to carry on. Some would say you've been a bit late in the day coming to support on the Education Bill for example, and other people point to other bits of legislation earlier on, where your support seemed to be luke warm.

GORDON BROWN: I don't think that's true at all. I mean I think, I think education, I've been saying, you know since we got in to government, that if we are not number one in Education, in the world, we're not going to be number one for prosperity. So Education investment, and Education reform are absolutely central to the future of this country, and I've made a number of speeches over the last few months about the importance attached to this education reform bill.

Er, equally, I think on Health reform, you know the investment that we've put in, in Health, had to be matched by the reform in the Health Service that was necessary to get value for money. And if I may say so, these reforms are not one-off reforms, er these reforms are going to have to continue, so in the next parliament, there will be more educational reform, there will be more health service reform, because we have got to continue to respond, first of all to the need to secure the best value for money. And then secondly, we've got to respond to people's aspirations, which are more about a personal service that is suitable to them, tailored to their needs, than it has been in the past.

JON SOPEL: Yeah, and do you think there's a danger that Tony Blair is being de-coupled from some members of the Labour Party, who seem to think that he's not listening enough. I mean the Ramsay McBlair jibe - I can't imagine Gordon Brown getting separated from the Labour Party like ... (overlaps)

GORDON BROWN: (interjects) Look, we, we, you've got to do er, unpopular things some time, er, so that you can actually show that you, in the end are getting the results that are necessary. If, if I may put it this way. We're implementing our manifesto, on which members of the Labour Party all stood at the last election, now you make the reforms, sometimes it takes time before people see the full value of a reform, but I think generally speaking, the things that we've done since 1997, when, when I made the Bank of England independent, people said that was a mistake. Now, there's hardly anybody in this country that says that that was a mistake. Most people think it was the right reform to make.

JON SOPEL: You've come under a sustained attack from the Tories. The argument seems to be, well that Tony Blair, he's a genuine reformer, but Gordon Brown, he's the road-block to reform. So if you want reform to continue, vote Cameron.

GORDON BROWN: Well I've just said, reform continues. This parliament, next parliament, the parliament after that and if you look at the reforms under this government, almost all the major economic and public sector reforms, the Treasury (noise) has either been directly leading these reforms or been in (fluffs) intricately involved in them. And I think our reputation at the Treasury for, for reform and for changing things, is something that you can see right through monetary policy, competition policy, industrial policy, regional policy, and of course now social policy.

JON SOPEL: Have you been impressed by David Cameron so far.

GORDON BROWN: Er, I like to see a, a new leader establishing himself or herself. We've got Menzies Campbell now elected as, as Leader of the Liberal Party, but you know, the judgement on that will not be made in a week or a month, or in Menzies Campbell's case in three days. It will be made over a period of months and a period of years and I think the question will be exactly the one I'm putting to you. Who is going to meet the challenges of this country, and the challenges we face for the future best.

JON SOPEL: You talk about the challenges in this sort of grand sweeping way. I mean I've heard endless interviews with you where, when you're pressed about Prime Ministerial ambition, you say look, I've got my hands full. I'm running the economy of this country, I'm the Chancellor, that's all I can do. But you will accept that you have widened your remit in recent weeks and months, that's undeniable surely.

GORDON BROWN: It's, it's, it's, it's exactly for the reason I've just said. Look, any country like ours, in a modern er world that is both fragile and insecure as well as facing major economic change, er, we have got to talk about how we can meet these long term challenges. Now, it so happens that the challenges facing our country, are not simply economic, they, they are security challenges, they're challenges related to huge changes taking place in society, er because of the global mobility of labour amongst other things.

And I think I would be failing in my duty as Chancellor, if I did not talk about the long term challenges ahead. So I see it as a duty (interjection), as a duty to put before the country, here are the things we've got to be thinking about, not just for today and tomorrow but for, for the years ahead where the countries that will succeed in the new economy in the new world, are those that are going to have sufficiently strong long-term purpose and direction to be able to face up to all the changes that have got to be made.

JON SOPEL: Yes. I sense that you hate all this image stuff. That - people speculating about whether your shirts you're wearing are business shirts or Ralph Lauren button down ...

GORDON BROWN: Well, my sense is that the people watching this er, this programme are more interested in whether I can er, or others or our party or government can face up to for example, er the challenge of youth disengagement, or as I would be speaking about a few weeks ago, what Britishness means in the modern world, or what constitutional reforms are needed or particularly what labour market, or social changes are necessary to make our economy more, more successful. I think that's' probably why people are watching this programme today, rather than whether you're not wearing a tie, and I am wearing a tie.

JON SOPEL: Fair point made Chancellor. But I mean I just, but I just do sense that you loath all that stuff. That sort of. I mean for example, the story about this week, that you've had your teeth done. That's been in all the papers. One paper put it, peggy stained teeth have been replaced by a perfect chorus line of pearly whites. Did you get them done on the NHS.

GORDON BROWN: Well I've got a terrible confession to make. I haven't been at a dentist for a year, and I've really got to go quite soon. So whatever has happened to my teeth, happened years ago.

JON SOPEL: So that story is all rubbish.

GORDON BROWN: Well I've had no work done on my teeth in the last two years as far as I remember.


GORDON BROWN: And actually, if a dentist is watching this programme today, I'm sorry that I haven't been at a dentist for the last few months, I, I do think it is important to keep, keep up with that.

JON SOPEL: Right. Final question, which I know you're not going to answer. How much longer do you need to get your feet under the table, to establish yourself as Prime Minister. I mean I know you are going to say, this is up to Tony Blair, but I'm asking you ...

GORDON BROWN: Do you know, do you know what, do you know what your viewers will not like is making assumptions that are not correct assumptions about the future. Of course Tony has indicated that he is, and he's said it publicly, that he's not going to stand at the next election, but beyond that, there are decisions not for me, decisions for the, for the Labour Party, which is the party of government, and eventually decisions for the British people.

And I think we should really rest the decisions about these matters in the hands of the people who are the right people to make the decisions, and it's not for me as an individual to speculate about what I should be doing or could be doing, it's really, these are decisions for the, for the - for first of all, the parties, and then for the country.

JON SOPEL: And do you think, when that moment comes, you would have more authority if you had been elected by the Labour Party, in a leadership contest.

GORDON BROWN: I've always said that. I mean, if there was a leadership election, I think er, anybody who's a candidate would, would be happy to be elected, er rather than selective - but again, that's not a matter for me, it's a matter for the people who are making these decisions and it's also a matter in the end, and I come back to this - the government of this country is in the end decided by the people of this country, and I think people watching this programme would not like, and I don't think it would be right to do, for, for people to make assumptions about what can and would, would happen. These are matters for the political process to deal with.

JON SOPEL: And in the long term you'll carry on this tour of Britain, whether seen as Prime Ministerial Chancellor or.

GORDON BROWN: I think, I think, what, what I've learned in, on this tour is, is a lot of things that after a period in government, people have got to learn. I've learned that there are young owner occupiers who are worried about the, the supply of housing, and we've got to do more for affordable housing. I've learned about young people denied access to, to community facilities, I've learned about pensioners and the worry about crime in the streets, and what we can actually do about it.

And we, we're going to do more on that. And I've learned things that will be reflected in my budget in a few days time, because the budget will be built out of what are the concerns and the aspirations and sometimes the fears of people, as I've toured the country and listened to what people say. Now, whatever you think of erm, of where I've been or who it is that's going there, I think it's really important and this lesson should be learnt by all of us, that you've got to get round the country, you've got to listen to people, you've got to hear what they say, and then you've got to act on it. And I hope you'll find that the budget and future policy decisions that we make, will reflect that.

JON SOPEL: Gordon Brown, thank you very much.

End of interview

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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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday 12 March 2006 at Noon on BBC One.

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