On the Politics Show, Sunday 24 September 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed the Chancellor, Gordon Brown in New York.
'There is no leadership election at this stage'
JON SOPEL: Chancellor, have the past nine years shown a special relationship with the United States or a one-sided one.
GORDON BROWN: No, a very special relationship and I think you've always got to put this in its historical context. The values that Britain holds important: liberty, democracy, fairness of treated and the values that America holds to be important are very similar indeed and our histories show that, our experience in the First and Second World Wars show that - our experience in dealing with the Cold War show that, and I think you've always got to have, when you're looking at the special relationship between Britain and America, yes it's about people and individuals, but yes, it's fundamentally about the values that guide what we do both internally and what we do round the world.
JON SOPEL: But don't the British people see it slightly differently now. Didn't David Cameron get it right when he said we should be sold but not slavish in our relationship with America. We have never, until recently, been uncritical allies of America.
GORDON BROWN: Yes, but the important thing is, since September 11th, the world did change. Er, the world changed in that we saw that there was a terror threat, it had to be dealt with. It started of course in New York, here actually in New York, but it's also something that has caused a lot of, I think more than twenty thousand lives round the world, simply from al qaeda attacks and we've got to recognise that this is a common cause in fighting the war against terror, we've got to do it in new ways in the years to come and, and let's be honest, we've got to combine the military and the security and the policing, er that guards against terrorism, with a battle of ideas, (interjection) that we've got to win in the next few years.
JON SOPEL: But what about the issue that we have been slavish. I mean, you know, President Carter, former Democrat President, I have been very disappointed by the apparent subservience of the British Government's policies, (interjection) related to the many serious mistakes that have been originated in Washington.
GORDON BROWN: You've got to, you've got to understand this domestic politics being practised in the United States. I mean Jimmy Carter is a Democratic President. I think the important thing to say is whether its on Guantanamo Bay or whether it's on the initial stages in Iraq, where we should have done more about the economic development of Iraq, we have made our views known, but you cannot disguise the fact that we're dealing with a new situation since September 11th. I believe that all countries, that are democracies and who believe in liberty, have got to come together, to fight that battle against terrorism.
JON SOPEL: But it's that whole question of the balance of the relationship. I mean the French and the Germans would say I'm sure, exactly the same things about how we shared the same values, but they found it possible to be critical at times, of US foreign policy. Whereas it is perceived that Britain has never said anything. Being scared to say boo.
GORDON BROWN: I, I don't think that is true of course because I've just mentioned Guantanamo Bay, where we've been pretty outspoken, and of course now President Bush has agreed that Guantanamo Bay should over time be closed. We've also been pretty clear about what happened in the initial stages of the reconstruction of Iraq. I mean I, as someone who looks at economies and looks at what might have happened, know that we could have done that better.
But at the same time, please do not mis (fluffs), misunderstand, what - where the issues fundamentally lie. It would be wrong in my view for us not to say that we stand solidly with America, in fighting this war against terrorist violence and militant extremism, that threatens for example, to abolish the State of Israel, threatens also of course, a terrorist war against all the cities of the world, and I think people should get this in its proper perspective.
JON SOPEL: Okay, let me choose a more recent example then. You mentioned Israel, were we right to follow America. Many people believed slavishly in saying, well no, you know, let the Israelis do what they will, there is no need for an earlier cease fire.
GORDON BROWN: Well look, we all tried in the end to get that cease fire, the cease fire has, has happened. I think the most important thing here however is this - Tony Blair and I have been working with him on this, are determined that the root cause of what led to the violence both in Palestine and Israel and then in Lebanon, is a failure to get to a Middle East settlement between Palestine, the Palestinian authority and Israel. Now, I've been working with Tony so that we can actually have an economic peace plan here. I believe that there is a will on both sides to move an economic peace plan forward. I believe if the security issues could be, could be resolved, then Mr Omar, the Prime Minister of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, could move this forward, and I know Israeli business leaders, I know people within Israel itself - (interjection)
JON SOPEL: But isn't the problem that we're not...
GORDON BROWN: ...who are prepared to push this forward. Now, we will push this forward. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Isn't the problem that we're not seen as an honest broker now. We are seen as being allied, firmly, Britain is being seen and America is being seen as firmly allied to the Israelis and in the Arab world we've lost a lot of influence.
GORDON BROWN: Well it's in the last few years, for the first time, the idea of a separate Palestinian State, side by side with the State of Israel, a safe and secure State of Israel, which is a precondition of any arrangement. It has been a policy accepted by America as well as one that is bring promoted by Britain. Now that is the advance.
The problem is, we have never been able to solve the security problems. That is an issue that has got to be outstanding over the next few months, but behind it lies, what is a British initiative, with the Americans and actually the Europeans, that were there to be progress and security, we could underpin a peace settlement, and just as in Northern Ireland.
JON SOPEL: Okay, let's talk about the style of government closer to home. You are regularly depicted as a control freak, centralising, totally un-collegiate, was one of the phrases, and yet you're the man who gave independence to the Bank of England, to set interest rates. What is the real Gordon Brown.
GORDON BROWN: Well the real er, Chancellor, is, is the person who er, not only made the Bank of England independent, and gave Executive power away, made the Financial Services Authority, independent of government, and gave that power away. Er, helped to create the new competition authority, where we devolved power for competition decisions from government, and it's now independent of government, created the regional agencies that took power from Whitehall and pushed that power down to the regions and of course championed Welsh and Scottish devolution, which was power taken from the centre and handed to people who could make the decision by elected parliaments in this case, themselves. Now, that is what government ought to be about, power being devolved. Centralized power being broken up and I believe that in the next few years, the next stage of that can be entered in to.
JON SOPEL: What does that mean.
GORDON BROWN: That, if you take the Bank of England, what we actually did when we made the Bank of England independent was two things. One is we gave Executive Power away and I believed that in other areas, we can do that. And if I just give you an example, the distinction between what happened before we made the Bank of England independent and after, is that government still set the general policy, an inflation target of 2% now, but the administration of that was clearly in the hands of people who were better able to do it, free from short term political influences, able to take a long term view of what was right. Now, to separate the making of policy from the execution of policy, is something that I think is a model that we should look at in other areas of government as well. And I think you'll find...
JON SOPEL: (interjection) I, I just keep saying like what.
GORDON BROWN: But I think you'll find over the next, over the next few years that we will see how we can both give power away, the Executive renounces power that it previously had, and that will restore.
JON SOPEL: Health Service.
GORDON BROWN: That will restore confidence in government and it will show a trust in government and while I'm not going to set out individual policies at the moment, I think you can see the way that I'm thinking, for the new politics of the next generation, for the challenges that we face in the future, the model of Bank of England independence offers us a way forward, because you give up power and you show that you are not anxious to hold on to powers that should be better administered or better dealt with by other people, and at the same time, you make this distinction, which governments, perhaps politicians have been reluctant to do, between setting a general policy guideline and letting people who are better able to manage, just get on with it.
JON SOPEL: This suggests to me that were you to become Prime Minister, you're looking at quite a fundamental change in our constitutional arrangements.
GORDON BROWN: I think it's possible to say that for the challenges we face in the future, er, where we've got people as individuals whose aspirations are rising, a huge amount of social mobility taking place, people demanding that services be tailored to the needs, er far greater local accountability of what should happen, when a public service is delivered. And at the same time, the big challenges of the economy, that we've got to respond to global competition, we've got to make people feel more secure in a, in a world where terrorism is a real problem, er then government has got to change. Now, the way that government can change is first of all to recognise there are certain things you do, you do not need to do. And the way you change - (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Can you give me any 'like what's.
GORDON BROWN: Well I've, I've just given you the example of what we've done. The Bank of England (interjection and overlap) - compete(fluffs), competition policy. I mean I've said myself that there's an issue about parliament making some decisions that the Executive already makes, for example appointments in certain areas. Er, but I think you could take a broader sweep and looking at the policy making process generally.
JON SOPEL: Okay.
GORDON BROWN: Now, that's what I mean about a constitution where the Executive gives up power, there is greater parliamentary accountability, and there's a greater distinction between government laying down general policy guide lines and letting people who are better able to make decisions, get on with it. And I think people will see in the times to come, that whether it be in the areas of government I've talked about, or in other areas, there is merit in moving forward in this way.
JON SOPEL: Just listening to you, you sound different, you sound almost liberated by events of the past weeks. Is that fair.
GORDON BROWN: No, I want Tony Blair to be able to make his own decisions about what he wants to do and for him to announce them and I will support them. As far as the future is concerned, yes, we've all got a responsibility say, look, this is a government that has done these things over the last nine or ten years. Here are the changes that we've been able to make.
But look, this is a different world. It's not just terrorism and insecurity, it's also global competition and the pressure on British economy. It's new medical advances, that make you change your idea about health care. It's big changes that are taking place in, in communications. Now, we have got to have new policies for new times, and I think we'll be able to show over the next few years, that we can combine the experience that people can trust, with also the new and fresh ideas that are about the future.
JON SOPEL: And just dealing with these past few weeks. If they've been liberating on one hand, do you think they've been in any way damaging to you, that you have been seen as a plotter.
GORDON BROWN: Well, if people want to say that, they're wrong. And I've all, always made it clear that Tony Blair, because of the job that he's done, because of the character of the man, because of the respect in which I hold him, should be free and I think the Party would like this, to make his own decisions about what he does, does. Look, you've been dealing with a unique situation, a Prime Minister that says that he's not going to stand at the next General Election as a leader of his party. There's undoubtedly uncertainty, but my position has always been that Tony Blair should be free to make his own decisions and I think that's where the position is at the moment. He'll make his own announcements in his own time. (interjection and overlap)
JON SOPEL: Sure, but let's take one example. You know, Tom Watson, a Junior Defence Minister, a protégé of yours, coming to see you, apparently to deliver a present for the baby and you don't talk about anything else and yet the next day he signs a round robin letter, which ultimately is going to require him to resign from the government. (overlaps)
GORDON BROWN: Yeah, I knew nothing. I knew nothing of that letter. Er, I... there was... (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: Was he wise to have done it.
GORDON BROWN: Well, I think it was a mistake. Er, and I think er that er...
JON SOPEL: Disloyal of him.
GORDON BROWN: ...he probably, er reflecting on it, may wish to change his mind, but the important thing is this. I have always said, and all my friends know this, that Tony Blair should be free to make his own decisions about what he does and make his own decisions that I would support and I have supported and I think you can er, strip away all the events of the last, the last few weeks. At the end of the day, er, Tony Blair has been a great Prime Minister, he's been a great leader of the Labour Party. I've worked with him for more than twenty years and I think it's important that he's in a position to make the decisions that he wants for the future. (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: Sure, and another suspicion that you hear from some people around the Prime Minister is that maybe you're not really as signed up to some of the reforms as he is. I mean they give...
GORDON BROWN: Well, I don't know what you're talking about because...
JON SOPEL: Well, okay, let me give you one.
GORDON BROWN: ...most, most of the reforms (interjection), have either been done jointly or in some cases the Treasury has, has led and in other cases Tony Blair has led.
JON SOPEL: Is there any limit to the role of the private sector in the health service.
GORDON BROWN: I think there are limits to the role of the private sector in the health service that we've set down as a government, because essentially, the private sector is doing part of the job of the health service but not all of the job of the health service and I think most people would accept that and I think in America of course, a very large part of the health care system is, is also either managed or financed publicly as well.
JON SOPEL: But Patricia Hewitt more or less said there are no arbitrary limits.
GORDON BROWN: Er, I don't think she'd put it like that. She issued a figure, I think which was in the order of 10 to 15%, but I don't think she's actually said that at all... (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: Well John Reid said that he thought it wouldn't go above 10 to 15%. She thought it was unlikely but said there should be no arbitrary limit.
GORDON BROWN: But, but hold on. You're talking about the National Health Service of Britain and you're talking about major reforms that we bring in, bringing in that I support, bringing in private finance, er to build hospitals. Bringing private contractors to do certain goods. Er, having a range of er, sort of options that are available to the health service, to buy from the private sector and of course the health service has always bought its drugs and its treatments from the private sector as well.
But this is still the National Health Service, using private as well as public, public investment and I don't think anybody who's talking about the future of the health service within the Labour government, is envisaging the total privatisation of the National Health Service, so in that way, I think Patricia Hewitt and I are saying that there are limits and the limits of course are that we are in a position to show that the National Health Service is working in many areas, but where it's not working, we're prepared to take action to deal with it.
JON SOPEL: Okay, and just on these final months of the Tony Blair premiership. Is it essentially a dual premiership that's operating now.
GORDON BROWN: No, it's Tony Blair, who's the Prime Minister of this country, and it's Tony Blair who is making the decisions, and I think you'd be making a mistake if you put it that way at all.
JON SOPEL: Do you think he'll endorse you as the, his successor.
GORDON BROWN: Well that's a matter, that's a matter for, for, for, for Tony. It's not, it's not something that I'm going to comment on is it.
JON SOPEL: But were you disappointed that he didn't when he made that statement.
GORDON BROWN: Not at all because look, you know, Tony is still leader of the Labour Party. There is no leadership election at this stage. There is no date, he's said he'll give a date at some future time and look, I'm not going to get in to this speculation about who, who's going to endorse who.
JON SOPEL: Lot of briefing, lot of briefing with (overlaps) .. a lot of briefing went on that when you had those discussions, which have been characterised in various different ways, before - prior to those statements being issued, that the one thing you really wanted was for him to endorse you as...
GORDON BROWN: I'm sorry...
JON SOPEL: ...his successor and that that...
GORDON BROWN: ...I'm sorry Jon, you've got it all completely wrong. Er, that was not discussed at these discussions. The discussions were actually about how I wanted Tony to be able to make his own decisions in, in his own, in his own way. And at the same time, we had to look at what was going to happen over the next few months, the policy making process of government, how it would work and these were the, the central, the central parts of this discussion.
JON SOPEL: Final question. Do you think you might face a cabinet challenger.
GORDON BROWN: Look, I've said I'll welcome er, anybody who wishes to, to, to challenge for the, er, vacant post when it is vacant - leadership of the Labour Party. I think the Party benefits from an open and inclusive approach. I've, I've said myself that er, I think it's important to have a Ministry of all the er, cabinet and the government of all, all the talents. I think you can see by the approach that I'm talking about that I'm open to, to major changes in the way we do things.
But in the context of meeting the challenges of the future. It is not a criticism of what has happened before, that I'm suggesting that to meet the next set of challenges, we've got to do things differently, er and I think if people want to put forward their views about the future, they should be free to do so, and I think the country and the Party will benefit from a very inclusive and open approach to these things.
JON SOPEL: Chancellor, thank you very much.
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The Politics Show Sunday 24 September 2006 at 12.00pm on BBC One.
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