Friday, 26 March 2010

Gordon Brown - a political train journey

If it was Thursday it must have been Brussels - even though I only stepped on Belgian soil for less than an hour.

Everyone in the Westminster Press Galley came to work slightly exhausted yesterday after the political tension and drama of Budget day. However, I had to pick myself up and head for the Eurostar at St Pancras so that I could have an audience with the Prime Minister as he headed to the EU Council meeting.

"Call me Gordon, some people call me far worse things," he joked by way of introduction. He was brisk and businesslike to begin with but warmed up very quickly and, real pro, paused whenever there was a station announcement so that not a word would be lost.

He has a tough gig ahead of him but he's a tough politician and he looked up for the fight. There's a good edited version of the interview on the Daily Record site

The most interesting parts were, of course, not really about politics but the little windows he opened into his own life - about his boys blissfully missing out on the election and how his wife Sarah will definitely be on the campaign.

A bit that might not have made it in the edit was when I asked him about Alistair Darling, the frankest and straightest chancellor ever, and whether he would keep him at Number 11, if Labour won.

"Alistair's a great friend of mine, and we'll talk about these things," is all he would say.

Gordon Brown interview
from Torcuil Crichton, Brussels
Daily Record Friday 26th March 2010

After a huge global recession, with high unemployment and the battering he has had in the media – Gordon Brown ought to look as glum as Tony Mowbray, the sacked Celtic manager.

But as he hurried for the Eurostar train to Brussels yesterday the Prime Minister had every right to have a spring in his stride.

This week his chancellor, Alistair Darling, delivered a zinger of a budget speech that left the Tories in the starting blocks. Overnight the polls tightened, giving David Cameron just a two point lead. It really is game on for the election race of lifetime and Gordon Brown is ready for it.

Tomorrow, Saturday, Brown will be in Glasgow to address the Scottish Labour conference with a speech that could fire the campaign starting gun.

Aboard the train he spelled out his simple message for Scotland: He said “There is no risk-free way of voting for another party and getting a Labour government.”

Brown has a vision for 100,000 new, high quality jobs in Scotland over the next five years, and he doesn't want to endanger that with the Tories or the SNP.

He is scathing of the SNP's voting record as part-time Tory MPs at Westminster. He said: “I believe the SNP MPs have voted two out of three times with the Conservatives since 2005. That exposes them as a party that would work with the Conservatives rather than Labour.”

He has reservoirs of optimism about Labour's chances in Scotland and about the future of his native country.

“We are the party that have plans for the future. I see 100,000 new, skilled jobs for Scotland in the next five years,” said Brown.

“We've got big investments in oil and gas, west of Shetland, we've got the low carbon investments,
the development of our creative industries and digital industries and our promise that we'll get broadband to 100% of the population, not just in the cities and not just the rich people.”

He added: “We've just had budget for jobs and growth. When we were able to announce that GE is bringing 1900 jobs to Britain in windfarming and when we look and the new investments in industries that produce healthcare goods we're a talking about a more diverse economy

“Scotland will become a greener economy, a knowledge-based economy and huge bio-tech economy. We'll be big in digital, strong in creative industries and advanced manufacturing.

“This is the Scotland of the future, where we've invested in science and universities an colleges so that we have strength for the future. People will not only have jobs, they will have skilled jobs and these will be the jobs for young people in the future.”

As for the immediate future he will still not confirm the date of the general election – widely expected to be May 6th. “I have to tell the Queen first,” he joked. He cannot even confirm his attendance at the historic Scottish cup semi-final between his beloved Raith Rovers and Dundee United next month. “I'll be supporting Raith Rovers in every way I can, I wish them well and I hope I can get to the game.”

You get the feeling that something called the general election campaign might get in the way of him attending the fixture.

Whenever it comes, Brown is primed for the fight and for the television debates that will dominate the three weeks to voting.

He said: “Look, I want these to be about policy. The debates will look at whose best of the health service, the economy jobs, industry , Europe and international relations - and people will be able to make up their own minds.”

He is confident about who will win the arguments: “I think people will find we have a policy and a clear view for the future. I think they may decide that the Tories, whatever else they are, are not ready for government.”

THE Prime Minister knows that after last year's Westminster expenses scandal that a lot of people are cynical about politicians, but he has faith that they will turn out to take part.

He said: “I think people know there is a big decision to be made, a big choice about the future. Lots of elections take place but this one is about what happens to the country over the next few years.

“People must decide which party is on their side - best for the NHS , best of jobs , best for industry, best for your children.”

He thinks that when people see what the Tories stand for they will be genuinely appalled and he thinks the SNP will be shown to have mismanaged the Scottish Government, or Scottish Executive as Brown insists on calling it. “I think, at a time when they could have made a difference, they have let people down,” he said.

He added: “I think when people know that the Conservatives would cut the child tax credit for middle class families, the Child Trust Fund for families with incomes over £16,000 they will be shocked. They have not made the same commitments as we have to front-line public services but at at the same time they are prepared to give the richest 3000 people in the country £200,000 each.

WHEN he married Sarah Macaulay, Gordon Brown said he had wed middle England, but Mrs Brown has proved a star in her own right, at Labour conferences and in Scotland at the Glenrothes by election in 2008.

Brown is happy to confirm that she'll be by his side on the road back to Downing Street in a few weeks time. He said: “Sarah will be coming around the country with me quite a lot and we'll be in Scotland quite a few times.”

That means leaving behind his growing lads – James who has cystic fibrosis and is almost four, and John who is now six and a half. Their dad hasn't explained the complexities of a general election campaign to them just yet.

“The boys know we'll be away quite a lot but I don't think they have much to say about it,” laughed Brown. “They're more interested in their toys and their books.”

IT has been a tough year for Gordon Brown – between party rebellions, bad polls and accusations of bullying his staff – but he seems to have come through it stronger. It is precisely when things get worse that he seems to perform better and that quality could make him the ultimate comeback kid.

He also seems to have learned about himself over recent months. He can admit, without prompting, to having made mistakes.

He said: “I am determined, strong willed. If you believe in what your doing you keep doing it. Not that you'll always get things right – we all make mistakes. But as someone said a soldier who makes no mistakes is a soldier who wins no battles. You keep going, you've got to be resilient in this job and there are pitfalls and challenges every day, but if you believe in what your doing, if you believe in a stronger, more prosperous society you work very hard to get it.”

He is certainly up for the fight, getting fitter and trying to keep to the exercise regime of running every day. But he has one aim in mind that he keeps returning to. “Since the beginning of the year everyone has been clear - this is the choice election. It's too big a risk to let the Tories make progress.

“The Tories haven't got the polices to help Britain. They got everything wrong in the recession, they made every single mistake any party could have made. We've done our best to keep unemployment low, to keep businesses afloat and keep mortgage repossession low.”

He said: “The Tories have nothing to say about industry in the future, about ordinary families and their needs”

Gordon Brown is not one to talk about hung parliaments, or deals with Lib Dems or, if after that barnstorming budget speech, he would keep Darling as chancellor, if Labour win again. He said: “Alistair's a great friend of mine, and we'll talk about these things.”

By now the train has come through the Channel Tunnel, we are in the Euro zone and heading towards a meeting of EU leaders to discuss the Greek financial crisis.

But Brown doesn't miss the chance to talk about the danger of the Tories. He said: “Their European policy is the same as 2001 and 2005, and what would happen to this area where 60% of our exports go if the Tories made advances? This Euro-scepticism shows that the Tories haven't really changed. They've had four years to change and they haven't changed at all.”

When he is asked what drives him on his political journey, one that could take him to a fourth Labour victory weeks from now, he looks out the window at the countryside.

He said: “All my life, since school in Kirkcaldy, university in Edinburgh and my time working in Glasgow I found you've got to fight for the things you believe in, you've got to be determined to win. For people who come from my background nothing comes without fighting for it, and you've got to be sure that you fight for the important things that matter.”

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