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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 October 2007, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Business as usual... again
On Sunday 07 October Andrew Marr interviewed The Prime Minister Gordon Brown MP

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

Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street... credit Jeff Overs BBC News
Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street

ANDREW MARR: Now then, as we know, the charge against Gordon Brown is that he is frit, that he was tempted to go for an early election, but having seen the latest opinion polls he bottled it.

So when I talked to him in Downing Street yesterday I put it to him just a week or so ago an election really had been on the cards.

GORDON BROWN: As Prime Minister you've got a power and you've got a responsibility. Your power is that you alone make a decision about elections. The responsibility, however, is to listen to people and to exercise that power with responsibility.

So yes, I think I had a responsibility to consider it, to listen to what people were saying, to listen to what the opposition parties were saying, to listen to what people in my own party, wanting an election, were saying, to listen to the public who I believe the public their priority was not an election but that we got on with the job.

But having made the decision I made it for the reasons I'm saying. I want a chance to show the country that we have a vision for the future of this country, and yes I could have a mandate or want a mandate for competence but I want a mandate to show the vision of the country that I have is being implemented in practice.

ANDREW MARR: Your advisors were suggesting you went?

GORDON BROWN: And there were people who were saying that you should go, there were people saying that you shouldn't go. But you know, I made the decision for a different reason. The decision I've made is because I want to get on with the job of change in this country. And I believe I've got to show people that we're implementing the changes in practice.

And I believe that, what we're really talking about now in Britain is the rising aspirations of British people. They've got to be met in housing and home ownership, they've got to be met in education, they've got to be met in the health service. And I want the chance to develop and to show that the policies that we are developing for this will make a real difference, will make a real change in this country.

ANDREW MARR: George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, said that if you didn't call an election you'd bottled it. And that is a phrase that will be heard up and down the country today.

GORDON BROWN: Do you know the easiest thing I could have done is call an election, because I could have called an election on competence, that over the summer we'd been doing all these things and I hope that people will understand that dealing with terrorism and foot and mouth, and dealing with all these things we'd acted competently.

ANDREW MARR: And yet, if you look at the events of the last two weeks this is going to go down as a huge miscalculation. At very best you've marched the people up to the top of the hill and now you're marching them back down again because the Conservatives have had probably the most successful party conference in changing the mood of the country, and changing the polls, in recent memory.

GORDON BROWN: But let me just say, we will win an election because when you come to dissect these Conservative policies, if you throw 5 billion at a problem, you know 2p on income tax, at a problem, and not show how you're going to fund it, then for a short moment you can persuade people that you've got a policy. But when it comes to the forensic job of dissecting that policy it will be found that the Conservative policy not only doesn't add up, but it leads to economic disarray.

ANDREW MARR: But you understand why, when people look at the extraordinary excitement about a general election that was being generated at the Labour party conference.

And then two weeks later when the polls have turned and you suddenly say, well actually, there isn't going to be a general election. They draw the obvious conclusion.

GORDON BROWN: But that's the party conference season Andrew, parties go up and down, they have their conferences, they come and go. That's the party conference season. The party conference season is over, that's why you've got to make it absolutely clear where we are, and where we are is that we continue with the business of setting out a vision for the future of this country.

And I believe that that vision in detail can be implemented over the next period of time. And I want to show people how I'm doing it. And I think people will understand that that's what, actually that's why I'm in politics, that's why I'm in public life. Not just to deal with individual crisis competently, although I'd like to do it, but to set out that vision and to implement it in practice.

ANDREW MARR: And in that party conference season the Conservatives set out with the goal of knocking you off that general election, because they too were concerned about the polling.

And they have succeeded triumphantly. Very, very good speech, and you must acknowledge it, from David Cameron. And whatever you say about the funding of inheritance tax, and indeed the stamp duty issue, hugely popular measures, which were resoundingly welcomed in the country.

GORDON BROWN: But if they're pleased that there's no general election it's because they thought they would lose it. And it just emphasises my point - we could have won an election now or won an election sooner or later. But the issue for me is not an election simply about competence although I believe we would have won that, but an election about our vision for the future.

And look, you know, if you take housing for example, and the Conservatives have proposals on inheritance tax and stamp duty, what people want to see is a rounded policy where you're building more houses, young people can get into owner-occupation, people have a fair deal when they're in their homes...

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people would like to see an end to inheritance tax.

GORDON BROWN: And we will, well the Conservatives don't want an end to inheritance tax. The question is what is the fairest system of inheritance tax, and we can have a debate about that in future, in future weeks. I mean, we've raised the threshold for inheritance tax so that more people are exempted as a result of raising the threshold.

94 per cent of the population do not pay inheritance tax. But we can have a debate about fairness, neither party wants to abolish inheritance tax, we can have a debate about that in the future.

ANDREW MARR: But it's something you're going to look at again?

GORDON BROWN: Of course. And I was looking at it when I was Chancellor. We continue to look at these issues.

But you know, the policy, everybody wants inheritance tax, the Conservatives even want it to stay, the question however is what is the fairest rate at which it's charged, and of course what is the exemption level for people in the future?

ANDREW MARR: Before we leave the subject of election timing. The last few weeks have been enormously destabilising for lots of part of the real economy and the world out there, and some of that destabilisation was caused by your own office.

For the benefit of clarity, since you are rejecting the idea of a mandate general election right at the beginning of your premiership, are you also rejecting the idea of a general election in next spring or next autumn? Can we at least have some clarity about the fact there's not going to be an election for a while?

GORDON BROWN: I think that's not likely that we'll have an election, because I want to get on with the business of governing.

ANDREW MARR: Not likely when, what's the period?

GORDON BROWN: Not likely this year, not likely whatever dates you were suggesting.

ANDREW MARR: Like next year?

GORDON BROWN: I want to get on with the business of governing. I've said, look, you know, you ask yourself.

ANDREW MARR: I mean it's a serious question just because it gets people destabilised.

GORDON BROWN: But you know, Andrew, you ask yourself, when you're Prime Minister you've got the power to make this decision, people come to you and say "you must consider it" and you've got to consider it, that's the only fair thing to do because you've got to exercise power with responsibility.

ANDREW MARR: And can you, thinking about the next period, then at least reassure those people watching that unless there's some extraordinary cataclysm there will not be a general election called in 2008, even if a few opinion polls show you well ahead?

GORDON BROWN: Well that's unlikely, I've just said it's unlikely.

ANDREW MARR: And between the time when you were actively considering calling an immediate general election a couple of weeks ago, and now, what's changed?

GORDON BROWN: I've a responsibility to consider what the opposition parties as well s our party were saying...

ANDREW MARR: Do you think you let it run let it run a bit too strongly though?

GORDON BROWN: Well, I mean, we would have won an election, I believe, sooner or later. As I say...

ANDREW MARR: You're not worried by these new polls?

GORDON BROWN: No, I'm relishing the chance of taking on the Conservatives on what I believe are very economically risky and dangerous proposals. And I believe that once people see the small print of a 5 billion black hole, and what it means for the stability of the economy, they'll be very worried about what the Conservatives have promised.

Because anybody can promise 5 billion, the question is can you afford to do so? So, that is a debate for the future. But, if I'm honest, the real reason that I have decided is that I believe the country deserves to see from us our vision for change for the future, and the implementation of it, in a way that was not possible, let's be honest, because of the events of the summer.

ANDREW MARR: Even though the dithering, which will be the accusation.

GORDON BROWN: I don't accept that at all.

ANDREW MARR: The term bottling, that will diminish, you've got to take a hit for a while.

GORDON BROWN: But I don't accept that. The party conference season is one thing, and people will speculate in the party conference seasons. You have a responsibility to listen to what people say. And then you make your decision and you get on with it.

ANDREW MARR: What about Basra? You said you were going to make that announcement to the Houses of Parliament and you made it in the middle of the Conservative party conference...

GORDON BROWN: No I didn't...

ANDREW MARR: ...and brought forward earlier a visit that was going to be later.

GORDON BROWN: No, I'm making a statement on Iraq on Monday. I said when I was in America that I would make a statement when Parliament returned. I had to go to Basra, and indeed to Baghdad as well, to see for myself on the ground. And I think people would have found it very strange if I'd made a statement on Iraq without having had the chance to see on the ground what's happening.

ANDREW MARR: If I may say, they find it pretty strange that you announced the withdrawal of a thousand British troops in the middle of the Conservative party conference.

GORDON BROWN: I've just got to tell you that the announcements on Monday are not simply about what's happening by Christmas. They're about the longer term, and the statement in the House on Monday is far more comprehensive than what is to happen over the next, over the next few weeks. And therefore it's...

ANDREW MARR: So it's going to be substantially different from what you said in Basra?

GORDON BROWN: It's a comprehensive statement about both security, political reconciliation, economic reconstruction, and there are other aspects of what we can do to improve both the security of our military forces and those who help us on the ground in Basra. So it's a pretty full statement and one that I promised.

ANDREW MARR: You know the criticism that will be made, you were talking about a new politics, a fresh start, and not doing things the old way. And yet people look back over the events of the last couple of weeks and say it is the old politics, it's leaks and spin and then this journey to Basra to destabilise the Conservatives. It hasn't worked, it's gone very badly, but it was, it's the old politics.

GORDON BROWN: No, Andrew. I've been listening to the people of this country. I mean, the one complaint I think that people had, and we have to listen to this, is that people want to be involved, they want to be engaged, they want to be consulted.

I've tried since I became Prime Minister, to reach out and to bring in people of all political persuasions, and I've done so over the summer months and will continue to do so, because I don't believe there's a monopoly of truth, I believe you've got to draw on people who've got something to offer. And equally, I've created citizens' juries around the country.

So what we do is we listen to, we involve and engage people in the making and discussion of decisions. And that is the new politics and I believe people will see that the results of listening and involving and engaging people are new policies.

ANDREW MARR: Are you worried at any level that you don't have your own personal mandate from the country? It's the kind of thing that you're going to hear from the opposition parties, and many other people now, for a long time?

GORDON BROWN: But we are not a presidential system of government. Mandates go to political parties who fight elections and their leaders are answerable to the House of Commons. So it's a very, very different system and, you know, half the Prime Ministers, I think, in the last century, came into office during the period of government.

And of course I don't think there's any instance of them going immediately to the country either. And I think we've got to accept that this is a parliamentary system of government, it's not a presidential system, and I don't want it to be a presidential system of government either.

ANDREW MARR: But just on that, when you became Prime Minister you did talk about there being a great change. There was going to be a change, a change in the direction and all the rest of it. So if there's change, people say, the country should have a chance to vote on that change.

GORDON BROWN: But we are making changes and the changes we're making have just begun. And as I said this summer...

ANDREW MARR: But people don't get a vote on it. The other thing that people want to vote on, as you know very well, you said you were listening to the people. 80 per cent of the people want to vote on the European Treaty. Are you going to let them have one?

GORDON BROWN: Well, I've said before, you know, if this was about the Euro we'd have a referendum. If this was the old proposal we'd have a referendum.

ANDREW MARR: 90 per cent of the old constitution.

GORDON BROWN: But you know, I said before we went to Brussels, and Tony Blair and I talked about this, and we said publicly, if we achieved our red lines then we could not honestly say this was fundamental constitutional change. And therefore we could not honestly recommend to people that it was a referendum that should follow from it. Now, I've got now to make sure that these red lines are implemented in practice.

So I've got to go to Brussels both in October and December and ensure that in detail we've achieved our aim which is to remove the prospect that there are fundamental constitutional changes as a result of this amending treaty, and so we've got a protocol, we've got an opt-in, we've got an emergency break in some areas. Now, if I can show that then let Parliament and let the country be a judge of that. But let them see whether I've achieved my aims and then we can have a further debate on it.

ANDREW MARR: So there is a possibility of a referendum, depending what comes out of this negotiation?

GORDON BROWN: Well I've been absolutely clear, if we do not achieve our red lines then I would veto that.

ANDREW MARR: So there won't be a referendum because you'll have vetoed it.

GORDON BROWN: But if I came back and had not achieved my red lines and for some reason decided that ...

ANDREW MARR: OK. Unlikely.

GORDON BROWN: ...but there it is. You know..

ANDREW MARR: All right. Can I just ask you directly about the last week, two weeks? Do you accept at least that they've been bad for you?

GORDON BROWN: I accept there's been a lot of speculation, but you know it is the party conference season and that there's bound to be speculation, there's bound to be debate. As I say, I think I had a duty to consider it.

So, you know, I looked at what people were saying, I listened to what even opposition parties, as well as our own party, were saying. Our marginal seat candidates were very keen to fight an election but I had to make a decision at the end of the day.

ANDREW MARR: The Conservatives are six points ahead in those seats, they're keen, they're a strange bunch of people!

GORDON BROWN: But you're now telling me the Conservatives are pleased that there's no election so they must have been worried. Look, the issue is for the future, not that, it's not all this froth and speculation and two weeks of party conferences. It's when you get back to governing, have you got a vision for the future of the country, and we have.

Can we show people we can implement it? Yes we will. Of course the summer has been about other things because we've had to deal with crises. In the autumn we move to this next phase and I think we'll show people how we're making the changes.

ANDREW MARR: And when you hear the former Prime Minister, John Major, saying that you have shown that you're not a conviction politician, this has been a period of spin and cynicism and you've been marching to the drumbeat of an election, not to the drumbeat of proper decent government, is there no part of you that has a little prickle of conscience and thinks well maybe he's got a point?

GORDON BROWN: No, I think he's completely wrong. The question I asked myself in the end was a more fundamental one. Why am I in public life, what am I here to do? And I feel I've a duty to set out my vision for the future, this is the next stage of the premiership.

ANDREW MARR: And just to be clear because everybody out there is going to say, you look at the opinion polls and you think, yikes, I just can't do this.

GORDON BROWN: We would win an election in my view, whether we had it today, next week, or weeks after. Because when the debate is joined people will ask themselves which is the party that can ensure stability?

Who can you trust with the economy? Who is going to build up and give the personal service that people want from public services? Who can deal with the terrorism? Now these are the issues.

ANDREW MARR: And you're going to recover from this week?

GORDON BROWN: These are people, these are the things that people will consider.

ANDREW MARR: And no election for a long time to come?

GORDON BROWN: I think it's very unlikely, as we said, that this will happen in the next period. I think the important thing is we get on with the business of change in this country because people do want change and I'm responding to that demand for change.

ANDREW MARR: Prime Minister, thank you very much.


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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