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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 January 2007, 10:33 GMT
The Chancellor's view
On Sunday 07 January 2007, Andrew Marr interviewed Gordon Brown MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Gordon Brown MP
Gordon Brown MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer

ANDREW MARR: Now, one of the safer political bets at this time of the year is that at some point over the next few months, Gordon Brown will get his neighbour's job.

All through these long years as a uniquely dominant Chancellor he has resisted talking about what he'd do next door.

When I met him yesterday he wouldn't quite say the words "when I'm Prime Minister", perhaps rightly superstitious, but he did talk about what he would do in the job, his priorities and his plans for changing the way that government works.

We met up at his old school, Kirkcaldy High, in Fife.

The Chancellor was greeted by the deputy head, Judith Kerr, she was a pupil here back in the '60s, at the same time as Gordon Brown himself and they nattered about the school then, the same modern building but a very different place.

(Short conversation between Judith Kerr and Gordon Brown).

Well the ambition at least rubbed off but in Gordon Brown's day this was a highly streamed school, the young Brown was pushed very hard, he was top of his year and off to University, perhaps too early, at the age of 16.

By then his life had been changed by another obsession, rugby.

But his sporting career was to be cut short by a terrible accident on the school's rugby fields.

GORDON BROWN: Well I was playing the former pupils, there's a picture up there.

ANDREW MARR: Big guys.

GORDON BROWN: They were very big guys, it was the start of the match and they wanted to show that they meant business and I ended up at the bottom of a loose scrum.

I didn't quite realise how bad, what had happened, it was. But that's how I stopped playing rugby. I had a lot of operations as a result. I was only 16 at the time but that was it for rugby.

ANDREW MARR: In fact he was to lose the sight of one eye, kept in bed in a darkened room for months thinking about his future and about politics. Which takes us neatly up to date because he hasn't stopped that.

So, what would a Brown Britain look like? The Chancellor echoed Tony Blair's original commitment to "education, education, education", and I asked him why that was still the priority.

GORDON BROWN: Well every parent that I talk to wants more opportunities, more chances for their children, than they had before, than they had themselves. And I think what we've got to do is see education as the priority, what's going to make our economy successful? Education.

What's going to make Britain great in the modern world? Education. What's going to give people higher standards of living is going to be education. So education will be the priority, it will have pride of place, and indeed it's my passion.

I believe that we can move Britain to a world-class education system over the next few years. We've started, we've got much to do, and to do that I think we've got to concentrate on how we can get individual tuition so that we bring out the best in every pupil.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people will say, well why has this not happened already? You've had ten years, nearly, of New Labour and now, at 11, certainly in England and Wales, about half of the children are not properly equipped for secondary school. That is an indictment.

GORDON BROWN: I don't accept that. We moved from the half not being equipped to three-quarters being equipped. But we've got to do better.

And everybody knows that facing world-class competition whether it's in America or whether it's in Asia, we're going to have to do better.

ANDREW MARR: But you've doubled the spending.

GORDON BROWN: Of course.

ANDREW MARR: And the figures still show 50-odd per cent of pupils at the age of 11 are not by your own light properly equipped for secondary school in reading, writing and particularly in arithmetic.

And GCSE results are not markedly better than they were when you came in.

GORDON BROWN: No, they've gone up from 45% to nearly 60%.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, if you put maths and English in they go straight back down again to 45%.

GORDON BROWN: But it's still gone up by 10% from 35% to 45%. So there has been a big improvement. I don't think any parent looking at the schools today will doubt that there's been improvement.

We used to talk about education, education, education. If anything it's excellence, excellence, excellence, for the next few years. Excellence for all, and what I want...

ANDREW MARR: Excellence for all? Not everybody can be excellent in education.

GORDON BROWN: But education can be excellent in what it offers to all people. We need an excellent education system offering education opportunities to people. And what I think, if it was available to me at this school, and has been available to many people, should be available to all pupils.

And that's why it's my passion that every child should have the chance to realise the potential, with the resources that we can bring to them, supporting parents in the difficult task of bringing up their children.

Some leave school far too early, or go out of education far too early. I happen to believe that our education system should keep people in part-time or full-time education till at least 18.

ANDREW MARR: Where's the money going to come from for this? Because we've gone through ten years, we've spent a lot more on education. But everybody looking at the books says that in broad terms, in general terms, the good times or the fat years in terms of education spending and indeed health spending are over. So, where is the money going to come from?

GORDON BROWN: When I say it's my priority, because it's vital not just to the greatness of our country and economic prosperity, but it's vital to individual opportunity, it means that educational spending as a share of national income will have to continue to rise.

We'll have to invest right across the board in educational opportunity so that we do not fall behind China, or India, as well as falling behind the rest of Europe.

So we will continue to increase the amount of spending per pupil in education, as we move towards getting it closer to the objective I have is meeting the private school levels of today.

ANDREW MARR: Just on education, one other issue which has been raised recently. The Prime Minister says at the moment we need many more specialist schools, specialist academies, perhaps 200 or so of them. Do you agree with that?

GORDON BROWN: Yes. Absolutely. And I think that the variety of education institution schools offering education is something that diversity is good for the education system.

It puts pressure on the other schools to do better. And I see more choice also within the school, within the classroom itself, as being the next stage as well so that we concentrate on bringing up the standards of education by giving children a range of personal small group, small class tuition. Particularly in the subjects in which they're going to perform well. I see us doing more in future years for gifted and bright children.

You know we've got a register of gifted children, so that we can help them realise their talents. But I also see us having to do more and this is really the dividing line in education because I see education as about merit and about ability and about talent, but not, and for everyone having that chance and not exclusively about one elite getting better opportunities than they other.

ANDREW MARR: Has the comprehensive experiment worked?

GORDON BROWN: I think we've moved on from the old comprehensive ideas. And the reason I say that is I think we recognise the individual potential of students.

ANDREW MARR: No more bog standard comprehensives?

GORDON BROWN: You don't treat people uniformly.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's move on. 2007 is going to be quite a year for you. Everybody out there expects you to become Prime Minister during this year. Is that also your expectation?

GORDON BROWN: Well I'm not going to make any assumptions. I think Tony Blair has said that he'll announce a date at some point, and then that...

ANDREW MARR: But you're gearing up for it?

GORDON BROWN: Well when that happens, I think there's a job to be done. Look, I think there's a job to be done for the future of Britain. And I think that next ten years will have challenges that are quite different from the last ten years. We've got a security challenge that is quite unprecedented.

We've got an environmental challenge that nobody really thought about in the same way as they do now in 1997. And we've got an economic challenge. Now, what do they all have in common? It needs a new kind of politics in this country. And it needs a new style of government for the future.

And the reason I say that is, if you believed in the past that you could have a top down approach, or you could have a government that simply pulled the levers, it's what some people sometimes call "intervene", and then things would happen. That's not the way it's going to work in the future.

ANDREW MARR: How is the style of government going to feel different? People out there watching - are they going to look at a Brown government and just feel that the sort of fabric of daily government is different?

Is it going to be a government where you take more notice perhaps of the Cabinet? Is it going to be a government where there is, dare I say it, less spinning?

GORDON BROWN: It's going to be, and has to be, a government of all the talents. And that doesn't mean just the talents of one political party. I think you've got to use the talents of the wider community in government.

It's going to have to be for the future of our country. And that's why this is a patriotic vision. The idea of the state as being an overbearing state, which a lot of people have associated with governments of the past, that cannot be the government of the future. It's got to be...

ANDREW MARR: They slightly, if I may say so, they slightly associate it with you don't they? They say this big grim, grumpy Gordon, controlling everything from the Treasury, he's a big intervening figure...

GORDON BROWN: ... I think what you want to talk about then is that the Treasury sometimes having to say no to public expenditure. And when a Chancellor says "no" it's because there's a good reason that you don't have the money.

ANDREW MARR: But you've been pretty interventionist as a Chancellor.

GORDON BROWN: I would see the state as the servant state. I would see the government as serving the people. I would see the service, if you like, emphasis of government, as incredibly important that you've got to listen and then you've got to be prepared to talk, consult, debate, and I think that is the way...

ANDREW MARR: This is a change of style for you, isn't it?

GORDON BROWN: I don't think it's a change of style for me, but I think the issue is the challenges of the future demands something quite different from the past.

ANDREW MARR: But it has been a criticism of the last few years, it's been called a sofa-style of government, very informal, a very small group of people inside Downing Street, cronies if you like, sitting around together and deciding what's going to be done. Are we going to see an end to that?

GORDON BROWN: Well I don't accept that. I think that's unfair to Tony Blair who's been a brilliant Prime Minister and has been an excellent leader of the Labour Party, and who's taken very brave and difficult decisions on so many occasions for which he should be applauded.

But I do accept one thing, that the world is changing. The responsible citizen, the active citizen empowered to be more involved in their community life, that I believe will be a great theme of the future. And I think once you explain to people, look, here are the challenges we face as a country, people themselves will want to be more involved in shaping the future than they have been in the past.

ANDREW MARR: What about the way that you're going to run government, sort of day to day though I mean you didn't use Dorneywood. Are you going to use Chequers?

GORDON BROWN: Well I don't think one presumes anything in this sense. I'm not going to get into the business either of talking about individuals or talking about individual trappings. Personally I...

ANDREW MARR: People talk about a moral steer Brown style, let me put it that way.

GORDON BROWN: Well I'm not very interested in the trappings of office. I'm interested in what you can actually do to help people. And I think the theme of government in future is not what you can do for people, but what people in empowered can do for themselves.

ANDREW MARR: Are you going to pay more attention, perhaps, to some of the institutions, the traditional institutions, like Parliament?

GORDON BROWN: We do need a new settlement over these next few years between, if you like, the executive, the legislature, and that is the power of Parliament and the House of Commons, and people themselves.

ANDREW MARR: So give me some kind of... I mean, these are grand words, but give me some sort of example of what in concrete terms...

GORDON BROWN: I've already said, have I not, that on big decisions where sometimes people feel that Parliament has not a constitutional role although in actual fact over peace and war it had an actual role. Perhaps we should legitimise that in the constitution itself.

ANDREW MARR: So if we go to war in the future Parliament will have an automatic constitutional right to have a vote on that before troops are used?

GORDON BROWN: But I, I cannot conceive of a situation other than an extreme emergency where Parliament would not wish to, and should not, have a role to play in this.

We've got to look at the relationship as a whole between the Executive and the law-making body which is Parliament, and the people themselves. And in doing so I think we've got to fashion a new settlement for our times.

ANDREW MARR: Is this a new constitution?

GORDON BROWN: I think we're moving to a new understanding over the next few years, of a more accountable government, a stronger parliamentary democracy, and a more active population.

And I would stress the importance of the active be empowered on the responsible citizen. And I think what I'm looking for is new ways of engaging people in the decisions that really do affect their lives.

ANDREW MARR: Now we're sitting here in Scotland, in May there are going to be elections in the Scottish parliament, and if the opinion polls are right, the Scottish National Party are likely to do pretty well, and possibly very well.

Do you think that the current arrangement whereby Scottish MPs can control what happens in English schools and hospitals? But English MPs have no rights to say what happens in this school or in Scottish hospitals. Is that sustainable?

GORDON BROWN: Well, I know that England is 85% of the union. And England at any point can out-vote the rest of the union. The reason why we had devolution was to recognise the different views and the decision-making processes in some other parts of the country. But at the end of the day this is a union that is built around an England that is 85% of the union.

So I think what holds us together, if I may say so, and when people look deep into the union, is not the institutions alone although the monarchy and the House of Commons and the Health Services, and the BBC and the Army, we mustn't underestimate the defence forces, are very part of, much part of the patriotic loyalty that people have to our country. But it is in the end the shared values that bind us together.

ANDREW MARR: Could you do anything for those English people who say it's not fair at the moment?

GORDON BROWN: Well I think, I think various ways that Englishness can be recognised, in fact if that is the view, but what I do say is let's not forget the strengths of the United Kingdom, and let's not also forget that a policy of English votes for English laws would in the end break up the United Kingdom because the executive would have to owe its authority to simply the English members.

ANDREW MARR: You mention the Army. A lot of people look at what's happened to the Army, the very, very poor level of accommodation, the relatively low level of pay, the shortage of front line soldiers in terms of - there's a recruiting gap of about two and a half thousand front line soldiers - and then they read that half the Navy, what's left of it, is going to be mothballed. And they ask "are you really playing fair by the people that you as a government are sending out to fight and die for us around the world"?

GORDON BROWN: Well I was in Basra only a few weeks ago and met the Army, and I must say I've got nothing but admiration for what they are going in the most difficult of times.

ANDREW MARR: What about their accommodation, Chancellor? Because, you know, there's been a real issue about this.

GORDON BROWN: I agree that there is an issue, and although most of the accommodation has been brought up to standard, there is more to do.

So in the next few weeks there will be more being spent in a new phase of accommodation improvement. And then over the next ten years I think we'll be putting about 5 billion into improving army and defence forces accommodation. But I'm convinced that we've got to more. We will do more.

ANDREW MARR: You'll do something for them?

GORDON BROWN: Yes, I'm convinced we've got to do more and we will do more. And let me say it's part of my recognition that the defence forces are not only an essential part of the security of the modern world in a way that perhaps people have not previously realised that because of the terrorist threat it's actually right at the heart of people's worries about their own future. But also they just do a brilliant job.

ANDREW MARR: Let's stay with Basra, or at least with Iraq. What were your own feelings when you saw those images of Saddam Hussein being taunted publicly before he was publicly hanged?

GORDON BROWN: Well now that we know the full picture of what happened I think we can sum this up as a deplorable set of events.

It is something of course which the Iraqi government has now expressed its anxiety and its shame. It has done nothing to lessen the tensions between the Shia and Sunni communities.

And of course even those people, unlike me, who are in favour of capital punishment, found this completely...

ANDREW MARR: It was grizzly wasn't it?

GORDON BROWN: Completely unacceptable. And I'm pleased that there is now an enquiry into this. And I hope that lessons in this area will be learned, as we learn lessons in so many other areas about what's happened in Iraq.

ANDREW MARR: It looks as if George Bush is going to take a decision, is taking a decision, to send more American troops in there to try and quell this appalling insurgency, some people would say civil war, before any withdrawal. What's your own view about what needs to happen in Iraq when it comes to British troops and the military situation over the next year?

GORDON BROWN: What I can, I think, be sure about is that the policy that we are pursuing in Basra and in the four provinces for which we've got responsibility, that policy will be the policy that we are pursuing now. And that policy is to continue to move troops from combat to training, to complete the redevelopment work, because that is the issue in this area as in so much of Iraq, the reconstruction of Iraq.

And I'm pleased that our armed forces are playing a part in that. And so that we can over the next few months start to scale down our troop presence in Iraq. And I believe that it is true to say that by the end of the year there may be thousands less in Iraq than there are now.

ANDREW MARR: Looking back over what's happened. And there's still a terrible slaughter going on day by day, week by week, in Iraq. Do you think this is something that the government should apologise for, or at least allow an inquiry into?

GORDON BROWN: Well I think there will always be reviews into what has happened. The lessons I think we've got to learn are two-fold. One is in Iraq itself. There's absolutely no doubt, and I think people will agree on this in time, that the passage of authority to the local population should have begun a lot earlier, so that they have to take no more responsibility for what was happening in their own country.

I think more generally, as far as the war on terror is concerned, the lesson I learned and I think this is going to be of huge significance in the years to come, and it's almost a big change in the way we've got to look at these issues, is that by military action and by policing, and by intelligence and security work you can achieve a great deal.

But you will not win against extreme terrorist activities and particularly the propaganda activities, unless you have this battle of hearts and minds that is won. And that makes me think of the same cultural war that had to be fought against communism from the 1940s and 50s onwards, is in a sense the model for what we've got to do here.

ANDREW MARR: Serious lessons to be learned. As you said, it was the same kind of hell before but we've made it a different kind of hell afterwards. Do you feel, as a member of the government, any sense of embarrassment, shame... sadness about what happened?

GORDON BROWN: I take my full responsibility and I will not shirk it as a member of the government from the decisions that we took. But I do say that there are lessons to be learned, particularly from what happened immediately after Saddam Hussein...

ANDREW MARR: We simply got it wrong. Are you going to be as close to George Bush as Tony Blair has been?

GORDON BROWN: Well I look forward if I'm in a new position, to working with the President of the United States, George Bush. Obviously people who know me know that I will speak my mind, I'll be very frank.

The British national interest is what I and my colleagues are about. But I think everybody who also knows me knows that I've worked very closely with members of both parties in America over the years. My links ...

ANDREW MARR: But you're not going to be a sort of intimidated junior partner?

GORDON BROWN: Well I've worked with Alan Greenspan, I've worked with Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, all the major figures of the previous US administrations and I look forward to working with members of this administration more closely in the months to come.

ANDREW MARR: Unless something incredibly unexpected happens you're going to be Prime Minister this year. And your life is going to change, dramatically. How is it going to change? Have you thought about that?

GORDON BROWN: Well I'm not going to presume anything. What I can say is that what I want to do in politics...

ANDREW MARR: It's kinda hard to see it not happening, isn't it?

GORDON BROWN: I don't know, because you cannot predict anything in politics and anybody who tries to predict, even months ahead...

ANDREW MARR: There's part of you thinking "this still might not happen".

GORDON BROWN: No, let's wait and see what happens. What I can say is that it's not the office you hold that matters, it's what you can do in it.

ANDREW MARR: You've got a little boy, he's got cystic fibrosis and although the medical prognosis is pretty good it's an awful lot of hard work for you as a father. Are you worried about the effect on your family, of that intense pressure which there's probably no other job in this country that has that pressure?

GORDON BROWN: Well I'm proud of my young son, and he's making great progress. And I really don't want him to be exposed to any publicity as he does so.

But what I do say is that I've been doing the job of Chancellor for ten years, we've made some very difficult and testing decisions, it is consuming of course as a job, and I do believe that any challenges that I've got to meet in the future I'm perfectly capable of meeting them with a family that has been very supportive.

ANDREW MARR: And do you have any sense, are you sure when it's going happen, do you know whether it's going to happen, after the May elections or before? I mean do you, have you had that conversation?

GORDON BROWN: No, and it's really not for me to make that announcement or decision. I think we should respect the fact that Tony Blair has made his announcement, has said he will keep people informed at a later stage of what he plans to do, and I think that's the best way that things can move forward.

ANDREW MARR: And do you feel ready for it? Down there, are you ready for it?

GORDON BROWN: I feel there's a job to be done for this country in the next few years. I feel I've benefited from the experience of learning as Chancellor about many of the things that are important, but I also feel more than anything else that I've been out there and will continue to be out there listening to people, hearing what people have to say, making sure that we can link what are the huge changes that are taking place around the world to the personal prosperity and security and opportunity that families in our country have a right to expect that a government can help them obtain.

ANDREW MARR: Gordon Brown, thank you very much.

GORDON BROWN: Thank you.


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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