Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 16:41 UK

Brown telephones voters at home

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown has always telephoned voters, says No 10

Gordon Brown routinely telephones voters at home to talk about Labour policy, Downing Street has confirmed.

The prime minister is understood to ask the No 10 switchboard to put him through to people who have written to him with questions or concerns.

A BBC News website reader has told how Mr Brown called him two months ago to talk about the Iraq war.

Wajid Rafique said the PM apologised on behalf of the government "for what had happened to the people of Iraq".

'Not expecting reply'

Mr Rafique, 30, from Nelson, Lancashire, said Mr Brown called him on a Saturday afternoon when he was "still in bed after a late night on Friday".

The prime minister said he fully understood how I felt, and said he would give his full concentration on the withdrawal the British troops
Wajid Rafique

He said he had written to the prime minister 16 days earlier about the Iraq war but had not been expecting a reply.

"It was a female adviser who I first spoke to who told him she was calling regarding my correspondence to the prime minister," said Mr Rafique.

"The woman said she was going to connect me to the prime minister. A few seconds passed and the prime minister came on the phone."

'On my side'

He said Mr Brown "talked through" the letter he had written and "apologised on behalf of the Labour government for what had happened to the people of Iraq".

"The prime minister said he fully understood how I felt, and said he would give his full concentration on the withdrawal the British troops."

After four minutes, Mr Brown brought the conversation with Mr Rafique to a close by saying "how nice it was nice speaking to me".

"I believed what he said and felt like he was on my side," added Mr Rafique, who says he is not a Labour voter.

'Keep in touch'

Politicians dating back to US President Jimmy Carter have personally telephoned voters but usually only at election time.

The PM takes a great interest in correspondence that comes in. He likes to keep in touch with voters who take the trouble to contact him
Downing Street spokesman

Mr Brown's decision to man the phones emerged in trade magazine PR Week, which claimed it was part of a new campaign to "humanise" him in the eyes of voters.

But Number 10 insisted Mr Brown had always phoned voters to discuss Labour policy, even in his days as Chancellor.

"The PM takes a great interest in correspondence that comes in. He likes to keep in touch with voters who take the trouble to contact him," said a spokesman.

But according to PR Week, which has run a number of stories from "Downing Street insiders" in recent months, Mr Brown's strategy chief Stephen Carter came up with the idea as part of a bid to spread "good word of mouth".

A letter or e-mail would be chosen at random, a response prepared and then Mr Brown would call, the magazine quoted an insider as saying.

It claims the tactic backfired once when Mr Brown, a well-known early riser, called a member of the public at 6am. The recipient was, fortunately, a shift worker who happened to be up. The story has been firmly denied by Downing Street.

Poll slump

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett said he thought calling voters at home was good way to stay in touch with their concerns.

He told BBC News: "I would be quite pleased if I were a member of the public and prime minister was on the phone. Not necessarily very early because I don't warm to that - but actually listening to people and being able to respond."

The revelation comes as a new poll suggests Labour's popularity with voters is lower than during Michael Foot's leadership in the early 1980s.

The YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph puts Labour on 23% - 24 points behind the Conservatives on 47%. The Liberal Democrats are on 18 points.


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