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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 June 2007, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Brown defends broad-based Cabinet
Gordon Brown
Mr Brown said it was a "total travesty" to say he was underhand
Gordon Brown has defended his promise to make his first government a broad-based one, despite apparent snubs from two high-profile figures.

The chancellor, who replaces Tony Blair as prime minister on Wednesday, told BBC1's Politics Show that "it's right to draw on all the talents".

His comments follow reports that former Met Commissioner Lord Stevens has turned down a junior ministerial post.

Mr Brown had also offered former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown a Cabinet job.

I think it's right that we are inclusive and it's right to draw on all the talents
Gordon Brown

Lord Ashdown had been asked to serve as Northern Ireland Secretary while other Liberal Democrat peers had been sounded out about junior government posts.

The idea of Lib Dem politicians sitting in a Labour Cabinet has always faced strong opposition among the faithful of both parties, who are used to bitter political battles in local and national elections.

'Underhand'

However, Mr Brown mounted a bullish defence of his strategy in an interview for BBC1's Politics Show.

He said: "What I would say to you is absolutely this: that there are people of expertise and wide experience.

"They may not be in your own political party, but in the case of Northern Ireland I was talking to someone who had something to offer, and I think it's right that we are inclusive and it's right to draw on all the talents.

"I think you will see that we are in a position - whether it's in one capacity or another - to draw on some of the talents of our society who are not normally associated with party political events and forces."

Mr Brown also denied criticism that he had behaved in an underhand fashion by "tapping up" Lord Ashdown on Wednesday, when Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell had already informed him on Monday that no member of his party would be allowed to serve in a Labour administration.

"This is not a correct account of what happened," the chancellor insisted. "It is a total travesty of what happened."

'Miffed'

Channel 4 News reported on Friday that Mr Brown is still keen for Lord Stevens, a cross-bench peer, to take a role as some kind of tsar or adviser even though he rejected the chancellor's initial offer of a junior ministerial job.

Securing the services of Lord Stevens would be a particular coup for Mr Brown because the former commissioner has been heading the Conservatives' group working on proposals for a 10,000-strong national border police since February.

One poll suggests that Mr Brown's inclusive government would be popular with voters. The poll, for BBC2's Daily Politics show on Friday, shows that more than a third of voters - especially young people, women and manual workers - would be more likely to back him with Lib Dems in his team

And Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, the bookies' outsider in the race to become Mr Brown's deputy, said he was "not at all miffed or bothered" by Mr Brown's decision to offer his job to Lord Ashdown.

Polyclinics

Meanwhile, Mr Brown told a discussion event on proposals for large-scale GP practices that the National Health Service was a "precious asset" which needs to be built up by listening to patients' concerns.

People at the event raised concerns about cancer drugs, the provision of new technological equipment, MRSA superbugs and hospital cleanliness.

"I assure you we will listen and we will learn," Mr Brown told them.

He backed plans for polyclinics, which will turn GP surgeries into centres with more doctors and specialists at a cost of 20 million per clinic, as "an idea whose time has come".

Polyclinics are part of a review of London healthcare by Prof Sir Ara Darzi, to be published next month.

The Politics Show is broadcast on Sunday, 24 June at 1200 BST on BBC One


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