The Queen and a question of honour for Gordon Brown - Telegraph
Gordon Brown entered Number 10 Downing Street on 27 June . Ed Miliband began trawling 'frantically' among Cabinet ministers for ideas to put in the manifesto. ensure that the Queen would be in London if Brown needed to ask for . Many relationships in the Brown court were permanently poisoned. Through war and peace, crisis and calm, the relationship with the Queen has been one that every prime . GORDON BROWN (). Through war and peace, crisis and calm, the relationship with the Queen has been one that every Queen Elizabeth II with Gordon Brown.
The monarch could be forgiven for wishing some of that common sense had rubbed off on the PM himself following his gaffe in the United States this week. Breaking the convention that all his conversations with her should remain confidential he told former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg that the Queen had "purred down the line" when he told her the Scottish independence campaign had failed to win a majority. Aside from confusing our year old sovereign with Eartha Kitt he evidently didn't realise that if you are going to reveal that a head of state has a strong opinion on a political matter that has divided millions of her citizens and on which she is meant to be impartial it is best not to do so in front of a phalanx of cameramen with ultra sensitive microphones.
Cameron, who may be less fazed by the Queen than his predecessors because he is her fifth cousin twice removed, apologised for his faux pas yesterday. But he can console himself that however peeved Buckingham Palace may be he hasn't strayed as far from protocol as Tony Blair. The first premier born within her reign Blair and his wife Cherie were culturally at odds with the royals. They loved ostentatious wealth, sunshine and call-me-Tony informality.
On weekends at Balmoral they were baffled by the royals' fondness for rain-swept Scottish landscapes, hunting and Tupperware. It didn't help when Cherie declined to curtsey and wrote in her memoirs that her son Leo was conceived in the Queen's Scottish home because she was too shy to bring contraceptive equipment. Blair compounded the sin by poking fun at the Windsors' Balmoral rituals in his autobiography.
He also appeared to borrow dialogue for his own conversations with the monarch from a fictional scene in the Oscar winning film The Queen, which he claimed never to have seen. But his greatest sin in royal eyes was to boast that he had saved the monarchy during the episode on which that film was based: Nobody at the palace disputed that Blair had provided wise counsel at a time when the Royal Family had fallen dangerously out of touch with the public mood.
But crowing about it as he did in his book was seen as an unforgivable lapse of judgment. Margaret Thatcher was the first prime minister of the Queen's own sex and the closest to her age but that did not mean they bonded Thus when the Blairs weren't invited to Prince William's wedding it was widely seen as revenge.
The only other ex-premier not on the guest list was Gordon Brown. The palace insisted it wasn't a state occasion and tried to draw a distinction between ex-PMs who were members of the Order of the Garter and those who weren't but few believed them. Brown got on better with the Queen adhering scrupulously to protocol but he as chancellor ordered the scrapping of royal yacht Britannia.
The decommissioning ceremony in was the only time the Queen has ever shed tears in public. For most of her reign her relations with her prime ministers has been much better. Her first was Winston Churchill. At this stage, Livermore was alone among the Prime Minister's inner circle in pushing hard for the autumn.
On the aide's return from his August holiday, he wrote a memo listing the pros and cons. Brown passed a copy of the note to his allies in the Cabinet. Ed Balls was cool, as was Ed Miliband.
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Douglas Alexander was growing warmer, telling the Prime Minister: Brown later told his circle that one of his great regrets was "those lost weeks". It was only in the first week of September that he dug out and reread the Livermore memo.
He discussed with Alexander, Balls and Miliband how they would deal with the subject when the trio, assumed to be privy to Brown's innermost thoughts, were asked about an early election in pre-conference interviews. They were sanctioned "to keep it running". Not because Brown had decided on an autumn election — he was still far from persuaded — but "as a means of toying with the Conservatives. It was tactics not strategy," says a member of his inner circle.
Divided in his own mind, Brown found that the Cabinet was utterly split when they discussed it again shortly before the conference. Straw told Brown that it was not worth the risk: The Chief Whip, Geoff Hoon, argued that it would be "a disaster" and held to the view that "the Labour vote would have haemorrhaged". They formed an axis which became known as "the greybeards". Brown's inner circle could not make up his mind for him because they were divided and in flux.
Spencer Livermore, the hottest advocate, argued with Brown that he should announce an election in his speech to the conference. Douglas Alexander was growing more bullish. So was Bob Shrum, the American political consultant who had been close to Brown for years. Ed Miliband remained unconvinced.
Ed Balls was beginning to change his mind, a shift which was reflected in the spin put out by Damian McBride. Sue Nye was "in a frenzy" about how she would organise a leader's campaign tour at such short notice.
Brown pored over any sign, tea leaf or entrail that might indicate the mood of the voters. In the week before the conference, he became hypnotised by council by-elections, something normally well below the radar of a Prime Minister.
Those who talked to him found that he could rattle off the details of council results all over the country. He knew precisely, to decimal points of percentages, how Labour had gained at the expense of the Tories in Birmingham and the Lib Dems in Nuneaton. He read great significance into a Labour victory over the Conservatives in Worcester, the city which produced the iconic electoral figure of Worcester Woman.
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He commissioned Deborah Mattinson and Stan Greenberg, the American pollster who previously worked for Tony Blair, to do detailed polling in the marginal constituencies which determine election outcomes. The raw results from the fieldwork came in on Saturday 22 September.
The refined data was ready to be presented to Brown by Sunday, the opening day of the conference in Bournemouth. He gathered his inner team at the Highcliff Hotel, overlooking the Dorset resort's sandy beach. They sat in a suite which had been turned into the Prime Minister's office for the conference week.
He confused some present by "using American terminology". But his headline conclusion was clear enough: Labour would win an autumn election with a probable majority of between 35 and Brown was taken aback. This was not what he had been anticipating. The press, applying crude extrapolations to their poll results, was suggesting that Labour could do much better than that. Brown grumpily wrapped up the meeting by telling the pollsters to go away and "do more work".
The hot house of the conference became feverish with speculation. The electioneering atmosphere was heightened further by the abundant evidence that Labour was road-testing campaign propaganda.Gordon Brown calls Labour supporter a "bigoted woman"
It was personally approved by the Prime Minister. Gordon Brown opened his speech to the conference with a jab at humour.
The speech was rewarded with a prolonged standing ovation from a Labour party currently happy to worship the man who had put them back ahead in the polls.
The overall media conclusion was that Brown was a leader in command of his party and ruthlessly preparing the ground for an election. Rupert Murdoch, though, did not think there should be an early election and was using his biggest-selling daily organ to try to prevent one. Brown's anger about that was as nothing compared with his reaction on Wednesday evening, when he learnt of the coverage in the Times.
Danny Finkelstein, the paper's comment editor, a former speech-writer to John Major and a keen student of American politics, had been struck by the familiarity of many phrases in Brown's speech. Finkelstein confirmed his suspicions by Googling any line that sounded like a speech-writer's phrase. When Finkelstein posted it on his blog that afternoon, the deputy editor of the Times, Ben Preston, thought it would make "a great splash" for the next morning's paper. When Brown learnt that the Times planned to lead its front page with how he had rehashed American phrases, he was "incandescent", says a member of his inner circle.
From his suite at the Highcliff, he rang complaining to Preston and Robert Thomson, the editor of the Times. Brown went berserk with Bob Shrum, whose long friendship did not protect the American from a ferocious blast of Brown's temper. Just get out of the fucking room! Brown continued to rage about it in private for days afterwards. By the end of the week in Bournemouth, ministers felt it "building to a frenzy," says Hazel Blears.
Ed Miliband began trawling 'frantically' among Cabinet ministers for ideas to put in the manifesto. Most Labour MPs were convinced that it was on. Staff in the Number 10 policy unit were working flat out, "all writing chapters for the manifesto.
We take a look at the Prime Ministers the Queen liked … and the ones she didn’t
We really thought it was going to happen," says one. Campaign grids were drafted. The unions were "kicking in money". Brown ordered several crucial events to be brought forward to create a springboard.
The most significant was to instruct Alistair Darling to advance the date of the Pre-Budget Report and the Comprehensive Spending Review in order to splice them together so that election sweeteners could be scattered before the voters. The weekend between the Labour and Tory conferences, Darling told Andy Burnham, the Chief Treasury Secretary, to hurry up settlement of the spending negotiations with ministers so that they could be announced.
Discreet inquiries were made of Buckingham Palace to ensure that the Queen would be in London if Brown needed to ask for a dissolution of Parliament. Brown's calculation when he stoked election speculation was that it would divide the Tories and they would fall apart under pressure in Blackpool. Yet it turned out to be a serious miscalculation to assume that Cameron and his party would not fight back.
The threat of an imminent election galvanised the Tory leadership, rallied their activists and muzzled dissent. The centre of attention on the first day of the Tory conference was George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor. The issue he targeted was inheritance tax. More people had been sucked into its net over the past decade, largely as a result of the boom in property prices.
Even so, barely more than a twentieth of Britons were wealthy enough to be touched by inheritance tax. It had nevertheless become a hot-button issue among the middle classes, not least owing to noisy press campaigns against "the death tax".
Osborne unveiled a crowd-pleasing promise to exempt all but millionaires from inheritance tax. Alistair Darling had no plans to tackle it in his financial package that October. After Osborne's speech, Brown told Darling to quickly rustle up a Labour version of an inheritance tax cut. The Chancellor was resistant. Darling protested that there was not time for the Treasury to do proper costings.
Shaky maths was precisely the grounds on which Labour was attacking Osborne. He told the Chancellor they had to be able to neutralise the Tory promise before an election. The Treasury began to scrabble together its own scheme. Campaign planning continued to gather pace. Billboard sites for advertising were hurriedly booked. Battersea Heliport in south London was asked to find landing and take-off slots for campaign tours. As one Cabinet minister puts it: Bob Shrum argued with Brown that this wasn't decisive.
Shrum was accustomed to the American practice of holding presidential and congressional elections in November.
Those with more experience of fighting British elections could see a problem, a very big one. The clocks would have gone back, bringing nightfall earlier. At the end of the Tory conference week, there were three more published polls to digest.
In one, Labour's lead was cut from 11 points to four. In another, a point lead shrivelled to three. In a third, the Tories had closed an eight-point gap since the start of the conference season to get neck and neck. The "crunch meeting" took place at Number 10 on Friday 5 October. Early that morning, in a phone conversation with a close Cabinet ally, Brown was "still going for it" but sounded anxious about what he was going to hear from his pollsters.
The inner court gathered in a ground floor room at Number 10 with a view of Downing Street through its bow-fronted window.
Ed Balls was the only absentee. Stan Greenberg put his laptop down on the table and fired it up. Sue Nye then brought in the Prime Minister. Brown sat opposite the pollster, who positioned the laptop between them so that the Prime Minister could squint into the screen.
Everyone else stood about, shifting nervously. Alexander and Livermore, who had already been shown the polling, looked grim. Greenberg presented a gloomy analysis of fieldwork from key marginal seats.
Labour had lost ground to the Tories whose promise on inheritance tax appeared to be responsible for much of the dramatic swing to them, especially in marginal seats in the Midlands and the south. The "balance of risk" was that Labour would achieve "a small win". Looking across at Brown, Greenberg said: If the campaign didn't go well, it could be worse: Brown looked at the pollster: Alexander shifted towards the antis.
Brown walked out saying he was late for a meeting on Burma. Once he was gone, they had a franker debate. They could say in his absence what they could not say in his presence: But to nearly all in the room it was already obvious that "Gordon had gone cold on the whole idea".
The inner circle reconvened that afternoon, this time in Brown's office. No one expressed a clear view. No one wanted responsibility for the decision.
Everyone avoided his gaze. Less than a fortnight since the triumphalist conference and his ill-judged tease about seeing the Queen, he was going to have to retreat. He asked Balls to walk with him in the garden to discuss how they might limit the damage. By breakfast-time on Saturday, Brown had absolutely concluded that he would not risk it.
The next question was how to announce his climbdown to the world. By Saturday morning, senior members of the Cabinet were in the loop and word of the cancellation of the election was reaching political journalists. One troubled member of the Cabinet observed to me that morning: Brown's court started to devour itself as members of the inner circle attempted to dump culpability for the farrago on each other. To try to distance Brown and Balls from the debacle, Damian McBride spent Saturday afternoon on the phone to journalists of Sunday newspapers.
Several reporters were successfully persuaded that they were at fault for pushing Brown towards an election and then getting last-minute cold feet. As McBride rubbished other members of the Prime Minister's inner circle to reporters, he was caught in the act by Livermore who yelled at the spin doctor: Many relationships in the Brown court were permanently poisoned by this calamitous episode. Alexander and Miliband would never again trust Balls and McBride.
A disenchanted Livermore, who was least skilful in deflecting blame for a debacle that had many authors, left Number 10 six months later. The fratricidal spinning and the interview fiasco added tactical foolishness to strategic stupidity. Brown was supposed to be the great chess player of politics, the man who always thought a dozen moves ahead. The legend was exploded that weekend when the supposed grandmaster checkmated himself. Days later, Alistair Darling rose to deliver a pre-election financial package when there was no longer an election.
On the Saturday that Brown called it off, the two men agreed that they should pull the inheritance tax cut hastily cobbled together in imitation of the Tories. In the words of a Treasury minister: A dismayed Darling was told by his officials that it was too late: The Chancellor's wife confided to friends: When he addressed MPs, Darling made the announcement on inheritance tax with not a drop of conviction.
The most he would subsequently say in defence of it was that it had "some merit" — damning with the faintest of praise what was supposed to be the centrepiece of his first big occasion as Chancellor.
Sitting beside him in the Commons, the true author had a glint in his eye, but it was swiftly apparent that Brown had again been too tactical for his own good. Rather than trump his opponents with this manoeuvre, it looked as though Labour was lamely playing catch-up.
Both the mini-Budget and the accompanying spending review were all too obviously cobbled together on the back of a now redundant campaign leaflet. Darling, who received a highly negative press for his first important outing as Chancellor, became angry with Brown for forcing him to do it, cross with himself for not standing up to the Prime Minister and determined to be stronger in future. The PBR was both a significant political error which reduced confidence in the Government's decision-making and a financial misjudgment.
Expensive games were played with inheritance tax rather than taking measures to prepare for the economic storm already being signalled by the markets. After the debacle of the phantom election, what the Government most needed was to be calm, solid and purposeful. This episode instead made it look frantic, hollow and rudderless. Brown, the master of events a month before, had now put himself at the mercy of them. Alistair Darling was at his home in Edinburgh on the morning of Saturday 10 November, when the phone rang.
His Private Secretary broke it to him that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs had somehow lost two computer discs containing the confidential personal and banking information of more than 20 million people. The Chancellor swore to himself. Darling instantly grasped that this was "really very, very bad" for a Government still reeling from the double debacles of the phantom election and the Pre-Budget Report.
Gordon Brown was so enraged that he leapt across the room. Grabbing a startled Kelly by the lapels of his jacket, Brown snarled: It is a short walk from Number 11 to Number 10, but a giant leap for one man. The Brown team had been adept at destabilising, guerrilla warfare against Blair. When they were the insurgents, they could pick the issues where they wanted a fight and ignore others.
This left them underequipped for the different demands of being responsible for an entire government and having to battle on many fronts at once. As Chancellor, Brown had often been able to do his Macavity trick of disappearing in a crisis. As Prime Minister, he could no longer play the mysterious cat. There is no hiding place at Number He was on a steep learning curve. But since experience was supposed to be the reason he got the job, inexperience was not an alibi Brown could ever use.
He sounded surprised to make the discovery that "hundreds of things pass your desk every week". He did not excel at multi-tasking. His preference and his forte were to concentrate on one big thing at a time. He had largely been able to do that at the Treasury, where he could focus on the four or five major events of a Chancellor's year. Prime Ministers can get hit by four or five major events in a month, even a week. Torrential volumes of business flow through Downing Street, much of it demanding instant attention.
Civil servants at the Treasury had adapted to and covered for Brown's chaotic and intermittently intense way of making decisions. Officials at Number 10 and the Cabinet Office were at a loss how to deal with his working habits.
Confronted with difficult decisions, one senior civil servant found: