Premiership of Gordon Brown
|The Right Honourable
|Prime Minister of the United Kingdom|
27 June 2007 – 11 May 2010
|Preceded by||Tony Blair|
|Succeeded by||David Cameron|
|Born||James Gordon Brown
20 February 1951
Govan, Glasgow, Scotland
|Children||Jennifer Jane (deceased)
|Residence||10 Downing Street (Official)
North Queensferry (Private)
|Alma mater||University of Edinburgh|
|Religion||Church of Scotland|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the United Kingdom
The Premiership of Gordon Brown began on 27 June 2007, when Brown accepted the Queen's invitation to form a government, replacing Tony Blair as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and ended with his resignation as Prime Minister on 11 May 2010. While serving as Prime Minister, Brown also served as the First Lord of the Treasury, the Minister for the Civil Service and the Leader of the Labour Party. He was succeeded by David Cameron.
Brown's style of government differed from that of his predecessor, Tony Blair, who had been seen as presidential. Brown rescinded some of the policies which had either been introduced or were planned by Blair's administration. He remained committed to close ties with the United States and to the Iraq war, although he established an inquiry into the reasons why Britain had participated in the conflict. He proposed a "government of all the talents" which would involve co-opting leading personalities from industry and other professional walks of life into government positions. Brown also appointed Jacqui Smith as the UK's first female Home Secretary, while Brown's old position as Chancellor was taken over by Alistair Darling.
Brown's government introduced a number of fiscal policies to help keep the British economy afloat during the financial crisis which occurred throughout the latter part of the 2000s and early 2010, although the United Kingdom saw a dramatic increase in its national debt. Several major banks were nationalised after falling into financial difficulties, while large amounts of money were pumped into the economy to encourage spending. Domestic policies focusing on education, employment and health were introduced by the administration. Labour was also press ganged into giving Gurkhas settlement rights in Britain by the actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley and attracted criticism for its handling of the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person to have been convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Brown was also dogged by allegations of bullying.
Initially, during the first four months of his premiership, Brown enjoyed a good lead in the polls. His popularity amongst the public may be due to his handling of numerous serious events during his first few weeks as Prime Minister, including two attempted terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow at the end of June. However, between the end of 2007 and September 2008, his popularity had fallen significantly, with two contributing factors believed to be his perceived change of mind over plans to call a snap general election in October 2007, and his handling of the 10p tax rate cut in 2008, which led to allegations of weakness and dithering. His unpopularity led eight labour MPs to call for a leadership contest in September 2008, less than 15 months into his premiership. The threat of a leadership contest receded due to his perceived strong handling of the global financial crisis in October, but his popularity hit an all time low, and his position became increasingly under threat after the May 2009 expenses scandal and Labour's poor results in the 2009 Local and European elections. Brown's cabinet began to rebel with several key resignations in the run up to local elections in June 2009. However, Brown was ultimately backed by his party. Brown faced a second attempt to launch a leadership challenge by former Cabinet colleagues Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt in January 2010, but the plot failed to gather momentum and Brown remained as both Labour leader and Prime Minister to lead his Party into the 2010 General Election. The election resulted in a hung parliament with the Conservative Party achieving the largest number of seats. Brown remained as prime minister while the Liberal Democrats negotiated with Labour and the Conservatives to form a coalition government. He announced his intention to resign on 10 May 2010 in order to help broker a Labour-Liberal Democrat deal. However, this became increasingly unlikely, and on 11 May Brown announced his resignation as Prime Minister. He also announced his resignation as Leader of the Labour Party.
- 1 Bid for Labour leadership
- 2 Core policies
- 3 First acts as Prime Minister
- 4 Domestic reforms
- 5 The Brown ministry
- 6 Foreign policy
- 7 Financial policy
- 8 Military covenant
- 9 42-day detention
- 10 Leadership
- 11 2010 general election
- 12 References
Bid for Labour leadership
After months of speculation, Gordon Brown formally announced on 11 May 2007 his bid for the Labour leadership and replaced Tony Blair as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007. On Channel 4 News on 16 May 2007, it was announced that Andrew Mackinlay had nominated Brown giving him 308 nominations, sufficient to avoid a leadership contest (although another report states that the decisive nomination was made by Tony Wright with MacKinlay yet to nominate at that point).
Since Blair's announcement of his resignation and Brown's bid for leadership, the Labour Party gained a bounce in the polls, gaining three points after months of low polls trailing behind the opposition, the Conservative Party although they have since lost such a lead.
Brown launched his campaign website the same day as formally announcing his bid for leadership "Gordon Brown for Britain".
Embarrassingly, in 2007, one year before the Global economic crisis, Brown delivered his final Mansion House speech as Chancellor before moving into Number 10; addressing financiers: "A new world order has been created", everyone needed to follow the City's "great example", "an era that history will record as the beginning of a new Golden Age".
Brown was careful not to suggest that there would be any U-turns in the key areas of Blair's social policy, or any radical breakaway from New Labour. He did, however, propose a different style of government than that of Blair's much-criticised 'presidential-style' government. Brown was not too clear on certain parts of his policies, but he did suggest that a Brown-led government would introduce the following;:
- Sleaze-busting package - Following the cash for honours scandal, Brown emphasised cracking down on sleaze. This led to the belief that Brown would introduce a new Ministerial Code that would set out clear standards of behaviour for ministers. He said that he intended to strip Number 10 Downing Street of some the powers conferred on it by royal prerogative, including the ability to declare war, thus giving the Parliament more powers and rights to vet and veto appointments to senior public positions, in a bid to crack down on cronyism after Tony's Cronies.
- Environment - Pledge to make Britain a "World Leader" in combating climate change, with big cuts in carbon emissions that were even bigger than most other developed nations.
- Constitutional reform - Brown did not make it clear whether he proposed a written constitution – something the UK has never had – or a looser bill of rights. He said in a speech when announcing his bid that he wanted a “better constitution” that was “clear about the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen in Britain today”. He planned to set up an all-party convention to look at new powers for Parliament, which could also look at rebalancing powers between Whitehall and local government. Brown also said that he would give Parliament the final say on whether British troops are sent into action.
- Housing - It was suggested that House Planning restrictions could be relaxed. Brown said that he wanted to release more land and ease access to ownership with shared equity schemes. He backed a proposal to build five eco-towns, each housing between 10,000 and 20,000 homeowners – up to 100,000 new homes in total.
- Health - Brown said he wanted to have doctors' surgeries open at weekends, and GPs on call in the evenings. Doctors had been given the right of opting out of out-of-hours care two years previously, under a controversial pay deal, signed by then-Health Secretary John Reid, that awarded them a 22 per cent pay rise in 2006. Lord Ara Darzi was appointed to review NHS service delivery, especially in London; proposed policies included the induction of polyclinics, open to tender and possibly run by private companies.
- Foreign policy - Brown remained committed to the Iraq War, but said in a speech that he would "learn the lessons" from the mistakes made in Iraq. He remained supportive of American policies, but said that he wanted a more "solid but not slavish" relationship with Washington.
- SOCPA - Brown intended to repeal sections 132 to 137 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, thereby enabling protest within the area around Parliament without prior permission from the Metropolitan Police.
- ID cards - Brown’s campaign manager had hinted that one of Blair’s unpopular key policies would be reviewed. The cost of the £5.5 billion scheme was spiralling. However, Brown said on 12 May that he would press ahead with it.
- Europe - Brown supported the EU Reform Treaty and repeatedly dismissed calls for a referendum on the issue.
First acts as Prime Minister
On his first day in office Brown rescinded the Order in Council which gave Alastair Campbell, who left office in 2003, and Jonathan Powell, his predecessor's political advisers, authority to issue instructions to civil servants. Brown's senior advisers - such as Spencer Livermore, Sue Nye, Mike Ellam and Gavin Kelly - continued to exert considerable influence at the heart of government. Other senior advisors working for Brown in 10 Downing Street included former Treasury Special Advisers Damian McBride, Jonathan Ashworth and Jo Dipple and former senior Labour Party official, Fiona Gordon.
Brown faced a major prime-ministerial challenge two days after entering office, when two unexploded car bombs were discovered in London on 29 June. The following day, 30 June 2007, another car was driven into the entrance of the main terminal of Glasgow International Airport in a second apparent terrorist attack, causing a fire and considerable damage to the building. Brown was born in Glasgow, leading to speculation that the attacks were motivated against him. As a result of both the London and Glasgow incidents, Brown chaired emergency COBRA meetings to review plans to protect the British public. He also spoke to the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond regarding the incidents.
On 3 July, Brown announced a programme of constitutional reform, including limits on the powers of the Prime Minister, extensions to the powers of Parliament, a consultation on a bill of rights and a possible lowering of the minimum voting age.
On 11 July, Brown announced that housing would be at the top of his political agenda, promising three million new homes to be built by 2020.
The minimum statutory entitlement for paid holidays was increased from 4.8 to 5.6 weeks per annum, while Child Benefit was disregarded in calculating income for Housing and Council Tax Benefit as a means of improving work incentives and the incomes of many low-income families. Regulations were implemented providing parents with children up to the age of 16 with the statutory right to request flexible working arrangements.
Extra penalties were introduced for employers paying under the national minimum wage, while the September Guarantee was extended to seventeen year-olds in 2008. The Mortgage Repossessions (Protection of Tenants Etc.) Act of 2010 created protection for unauthorised tenants. The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 granted new powers to tackle erosion and “underwrote a path to run round England’s coastland,” while the Community Energy Saving Programme (2009) obliged energy suppliers and generators to deliver energy efficiency measures in certain low income areas.
Compulsory personal, social and health education was introduced in 2009, while the Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010 provided parents with the option of splitting between them “the year that the mother is currently able to take as maternity leave, giving them greater flexibility in their childcare arrangements.” An extension of 10–15 hours free nursery provision for disadvantaged 2-year olds was also carried out. Between 2008 and 2010, additional money was put into tax credits for families with children, while child poverty fell during Brown's last year as Prime Minister.
The Education and Skills Act 2008 introduced measures to extend educational opportunities such as the raising of the school leaving age to 18, while the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 introduced provisions such as a statutory framework for apprenticeships and a right to an apprenticeship for suitably qualified 16-18 year olds. The Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 created a new Homes and Communities Agency, with objectives such as improving the supply and quality of housing in England. The Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 entitled anyone in England who was disabled or past retirement age to free travel on local buses at off-peak times anywhere in the country. The Pensions Act 2007 and the Pensions Act 2008 introduced various improvements to pension provisions, while the Employment Act 2008 strengthened existing legislation regarding working conditions.
In the field of health care, Brown promised free cancer prescription medicines, which became available in January 2009, although concerns were raised in September that many patients entitled to such prescriptions were not benefiting from them. A Health in Pregnancy Grant was also introduced, which provided financial assistance to expectant mothers. In 2008, a Local Housing Allowance was introduced for people on low incomes or benefits renting from private landlords.
The Autism Act 2009 was passed with hopes that it would lead to improvements in services and support for adults with autism. The Agency Workers Regulations 2010 sought to improve the workplace rights of people working for employment agencies. The Equality Act 2010 required equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services. In addition, the Child Poverty Act 2010 set targets for governments to eliminate child poverty.
The Brown ministry
Brown appointed his first cabinet in the days following his succession as Prime Minister. David Miliband was appointed as Foreign Secretary while Alistair Darling succeeded Brown as Chancellor. Brown's team also included Jacqui Smith, who became Britain's first female Home Secretary. Jack Straw was appointed to the new role of Justice Secretary. Brown also advocated a "Government of all the talents" in which people who had not previously been members of the Labour Party, but who extertese in specific areas would be appointed as ministers. Consequently five new ministers were appointed, including Sir Ara Darzi, a consultant surgeon who became a health minister in the House of Lords; Sir Digby Jones, the former director general of the CBI, who became minister of state for trade and investment; and Sir Alan West, the former head of the Royal Navy, who became a security minister at the Home Office.
Brown made his first overseas trip as Prime Minister to Berlin, where he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In a speech given to the Labour Friends of Israel in April 2007, Brown stated:
Many of you know my interest in Israel and in the Jewish community has been long-standing…My father was the chairman of the Church of Scotland's Israel Committee. Not only as I've described to some of you before did he make visits on almost two occasions a year for 20 years to Israel — but because of that, although Fife, where I grew up, was a long way from Israel with no TV pictures to link us together — I had a very clear view from household slides and projectors about the history of Israel, about the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people, about the enormous suffering and loss during the Holocaust, as well as the extraordinary struggle that he described to me of people to create this magnificent homeland.
Brown skipped the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics, on 8 August 2008 in Beijing. He attended the closing ceremony instead, on 24 August 2008. Brown had been under intense pressure from human rights campaigners to send a message to China, concerning the 2008 Tibetan unrest. His decision not to attend the opening ceremony was not an act of protest, rather made several weeks in advance and not intended as a stand on principle.
Diplomatic relationship with the U.S.
There was widespread speculation on the nature of the UK's relationship with the United States under Brown's government. A Washington, D.C. speech by Brown's close aide Douglas Alexander was widely reported as both a policy shift and a message to the U.S: "In the 21st century, strength should be measured on what we can build together…we need to demonstrate by our deeds, words and our actions that we are internationalist, not isolationist, multilateralist, not unilateralist, active and not passive, and driven by core values, consistently applied, not special interests."
However, Downing Street's spokesman strongly denied the suggestion that Alexander was trying to distance Britain from U.S. foreign policy and show that Britain would not necessarily, in Tony Blair's words, stand "shoulder to shoulder" with George W. Bush over future military interventions: "I thought the interpretation that was put on Douglas Alexander's words was quite extraordinary. To interpret this as saying anything at all about our relationship with the U.S. is nonsense."
Brown personally clarified his position; "We will not allow people to separate us from the United States of America in dealing with the common challenges that we face around the world. I think people have got to remember that the relationship between Britain and America and between a British prime minister and an American president is built on the things that we share, the same enduring values about the importance of liberty, opportunity, the dignity of the individual. I will continue to work, as Tony Blair did, very closely with the American administration."
Brown continued to be dogged by controversy about not holding a referendum on the EU Treaty of Lisbon. On the morning of 13 December 2007, Foreign Secretary David Miliband stood in for the Prime Minister at the official signing ceremony in Lisbon of the EU Reform Treaty, which was attended by all other European heads of government. Brown was otherwise engaged at the House of Commons, appearing before the Liaison Committee, and travelled to Portugal to sign the treaty in the afternoon which the EU leaders had signed in the morning. Brown came under heavy fire from opponents on both sides of the House and in the press, who suggested that neither Brown nor Labour had a mandate to ratify the treaty without public assent. Conservative leader David Cameron pointed to Labour's 2005 manifesto, which had pledged to give British public a referendum on the original EU Constitution. Brown argued that the Treaty differed on significant points from the Constitution, and was no longer a "constitution" but an ordinary treaty, and as such did not require a referendum. He also responded with plans for a lengthy debate on the topic, and stated that he believed the document to be too complex to be decided by referendum.
Brown said in a letter published on 17 March 2008 that the United Kingdom will hold an inquiry into the Iraq war—but not soon. It was not until 15 June 2009 that an inquiry was announced, with Brown saying that it would look into the country's role in the Iraq War and would be held in private, a decision which was subsequently changed. Brown stated, "no British documents and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry." The announcement and nature of the inquiry was widely criticised. Conservative Party leader David Cameron dismissed the inquiry as "an establishment stitch-up", and the Liberal Democrats threatened a boycott. The open sessions of the inquiry commenced on 24 November 2009, televised from the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.
On 5 March 2010, Gordon Brown appeared before the inquiry. In a four-hour hearing he told the inquiry that he believed the war had been "right" and that intelligence briefings had convinced him that Iraq was a threat that "had to be dealt with". He said that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair had not kept him in the dark despite him not being aware of some developments and that the main issue which concerned him was that Iraq was in breach of UN resolutions. He feared the "new world order we were trying to create would be put at risk" if the international community did not act together to deal with Iraq. On the question of equipment he said that troops had all the equipment they needed. Giving his assessment of the appearance, the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said; "Gordon Brown's aim today appears to be to look and sound different from Tony Blair whilst simultaneously opening up no gap of substance with him and the decisions he took."
Gurkhas settlement rights
On 24 April 2009 the government announced a long awaited decision on Gurkhas' rights to settle in the UK, leading to criticism for its decision to affix five criteria to any Gurkha soldier applying for British citizenship. With the support of both Opposition parties and Labour rebel MPs on 29 April 2009 a Liberal Democrat motion that all Gurkhas be offered an equal right of residence was passed, allowing Gurkhas who served before 1997 residence in the UK. Following the Government defeat, the Minister for Immigration Phil Woolas announced that a further review would be completed by the middle of July. This was followed by a very high profile campaign by the actress Joanna Lumley (who is the face of the Gurkha Justice Campaign), which included a meeting with Brown at 10 Downing Street, and a confrontation with Phil Woolas at the BBC Westminster studios leading to an inpromptu press conference in which she pressured him into agreeing to further talks over the issue. Finally, after a Commons Home Affairs Committee meeting in which talks were held between campaigners, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office on 19 May, Gordon Brown announced to the House of Commons on 20 May that the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith would make a statement on the issue the following day. Smith subsequently announced that all Gurkha veterans who had served four years or more in the British Army before 1997 would be allowed to settle in Britain.
Release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi
In the days following the release and high profile return to Libya of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in August 2009, speculation began to mount as to the possible involvement of the Westminster Government in the Scottish Government's decision to release him, particularly after Saif Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi claimed that Megrahi's case had been discussed during business talks with the UK, and after Colonel Gaddafi thanked Gordon Brown for "encouraging" the release. This prompted Downing Street to confirm that Brown had discussed a possible release with Gaddafi during the G8 summit in Italy in July 2009, but that a letter sent by Brown to the Libyan leader had stated, “When we met I stressed that, should the Scottish Executive decide that Megrahi can return to Libya, this should be a purely private, family occasion.”
It was also claimed that Business Secretary, Peter Mandelson, had met with Saif Gaddafi on at least two occasions at which a possible release had been discussed. Mandelson confirmed this, but said that he had told Gaddafi that any release was entirely a matter for the Scottish Justice Secretary. He went on to describe as "offensive" any suggestions that a release had been linked to a trade deal with Libya.
On 14 September 2007, the Northern Rock Bank sought and received a liquidity support facility from the Bank of England, following problems in the credit markets, during the financial crisis of 2007–2010. The bank was subsequently taken into public ownership by the British Government in February 2008, as a result of its financial problems caused by the subprime mortgage crisis.
As the global recession began to bite throughout 2008, serious concerns were expressed about the stability of the British banking system, particularly after major falls in the stock market at the beginning of October, which saw Britain's leading share index, the FTSE100, record its largest single-day points fall since 1987. On 8 October in response to the crisis, the Government announced a bank rescue package totalling some £500 billion (approximately $850 billion). The plan aimed to restore market confidence and help stabilise the British banking system, and provided for a range of short-term loans and guarantees of interbank lending, as well as up to £50 billion of state investment in the banks themselves. Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, has asserted that Brown "defined the character of the worldwide financial rescue effort".
Recession and fiscal stimulus
With the onset of the recession, the United Kingdom was one of the major economies leading calls for fiscal action to stimulate aggregate demand. Throughout 2008 a number of fiscal measures were introduced including a £145 tax cut for basic rate (below £34,800 pa earnings) tax payers, a temporary 2.5% cut in Value Added Tax (Sales Tax), £3 billion worth of investment spending brought forward from 2010 and a variety of other measures such as a £20 billion Small Enterprise Loan Guarantee Scheme. The total cost of these measures, mostly announced in the November 2008 Pre-Budget Report was roughly £20 billion (not counting loan guarantees). Further limited measures worth £5 billion were unveiled in the 2009 budget including training help for the young unemployed and a "car scrappage" scheme which offered £2,000 in subsidy for a new car purchase for the scrapping of a car more than 10 years old (similar to schemes in Germany and France).
Despite entering the crisis with a low level of public debt (roughly 40% of GDP) and a moderate deficit compared to many European nations, the UK has been limited in its ability to take discretionary fiscal action by the significant burden that bank bail-outs have had on public finances. Even more significantly for immediate revenue, the tax take from financial services, which on a conservative estimate contributed 13.9% of UK tax income in 2007, dropped alarmingly as the crisis affected bank profits. This contributed to a significant rise in the deficit to an estimated £175 billion (12.4% of GDP) in 2009-10 and a rise in the national debt above 80% of GDP at its peak. Furthermore, the UK has significant automatic stabilisers which have contributed far more than discretionary action and more than most other countries.
Brown's political opponents attributed Labour's drop in popularity to his failure to ensured the country had sufficient monetary reserves to be able to lower taxes and ease the burden on voters, despite overseeing one of the longest sustained periods of economic growth in the country's history during his time as Chancellor between 1997 and 2007.
2009 Pre-Budget report
On 9 December, in his final pre-Budget report before the 2010 general election, Chancellor Alastair Darling admitted that the recession had been deeper than predicted during the Budget in April, but claimed that the government's action to pump money into the economy had made a "real difference" to families and businesses. He also announced a number of measures to help economic recovery, including a public sector pay freeze, a levy on bank bonuses and a package of measures to help the unemployed. He said the choice facing the country was "between securing the recovery or wrecking it". Darling also said that the UK's total net debt would continue to rise until the financial year 2014-15. Borrowing would reach 56% of GDP in 2009-10 and peak at 78% in 2014-15, later than previously forecast. However, Darling stressed that was in line with other G7 economies.
The measures would see increases in taxes for a large section of the population, prompting Shadow Chancellor George Osborne to declare that Labour should "never be trusted" with people's money again, while Labour was also accused of electioneering after Darling announced a 1.5 per cent rise in child and disability benefits from April 2010 - just weeks ahead of an expected election - but made no comment on whether the rise could be sustained after April 2011. Labour was also criticised because it had chosen to delay vital spending decisions until after the general election. Defending his decision on Radio 4's Today programme the following day, Darling said that he had not carried out a full spending review because of continued economic "uncertainty". On the issue of benefits he said that he had announced he was overriding the normal requirement to link the rise to the previous September's rate of inflation because this would have led to the benefits being frozen because inflation was negative at that point. Later the same day Brown also denied that the announcement had been a pre-election stunt.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that public spending will face a £36bn shortfall in the three years from 2011 - with £15bn of the cuts needed yet to be identified. The country's leading economic think tank forecasts that with spending on health and education protected, the areas most likely to face severe cuts are defence, housing, transport and higher education. Moreover, it is estimated that the cost to each individual family of paying back the national debt will be £2,400 a year for eight years. On 11 December, it was reported that the Treasury had wanted a tougher approach to public spending in order to lend credibility to its plan to cut the deficit, but that Brown had overruled it following an aggressive public and private campaign by Schools Minister Ed Balls for a real-terms increase in education spending. Brown dismissed the report as "completely wrong".
November 2007 saw Brown face intense criticism of not adhering to the 'military covenant', a convention within British politics stating that in exchange for them putting their lives at risk for the sake of national security, the armed forces should in turn be suitably looked after by the government. Criticism came from several former Chiefs of Defence, including General Lord Guthrie, Admiral Lord Boyce, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Craig, Field Marshal Lord Bramall and Field Marshal Lord Inge. Poor housing, lack of equipment and adequate healthcare provisions were some of the major issues Brown was accused of neglecting.
Following the rejection of a previous bill under Tony Blair's government to allow for terror suspects to be detained for up to 90 days without charge, Brown championed a new bill extending this pre-charge detention period to 42 days. The bill was met with opposition on both sides of the House and, facing a growing backbench rebellion, it is alleged that a number of deals were done behind the scenes to ensure a victory for Brown in the vote on this issue. In the end, the bill passed by just 9 votes. Many commentators view this as a Pyrrhic victory, as Brown had to rely upon the support of a renegade Conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe, and the votes of a handful of Democratic Unionist MPs. In a session of Prime Ministers' Questions some weeks later, David Cameron challenged Brown to concede on record that "no deals were done" in ensuring the bill was passed. Brown stood up before the House and gave a one-word response of "Yes". To uproar, Cameron proceeded to quote from a letter written by Geoff Hoon, Labour's Chief Whip, to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz, in which Hoon expressed deep thanks for Vaz's support and in addition signed off the letter with the line "I trust that you will be appropriately rewarded." Hoon has claimed that this was just a joke between friends but others have viewed this letter as proof that deals were indeed done behind the scenes and that Brown was lying when he went on record as stating that no such deals were done. The House of Lords defeated the bill, with Lords characterising it as "fatally flawed, ill thought through and unnecessary", stating that "it seeks to further erode [...] fundamental legal and civil rights".
The "election that never was"
Gordon Brown caused controversy during September and early October 2007 by letting speculation continue on whether he would call a snap general election. Indeed, the Labour Party launched the Not Flash, Just Gordon advertising campaign, which was seen largely as pre-election promotion of Brown as Prime Minister. However, following the negative reaction to his visit to British troops in Iraq during the 2007 Conservative Party Conference, an 'off the cuff' conference speech made by David Cameron and an opinion poll showing Labour 6% behind the Conservative Party in key marginal seats, he finally announced that there would be no election in the near future and seemed to rule out an election in 2008. He was subsequently accused by his political opponents as being a ditherer and indecisive. Cameron accused Brown of "bottling" the election because of opinion polls, which Brown denied.
Plots against leadership
The first signs of internal disquiet towards Brown's policies surfaced as early as May 2008. Brown, in his 2007 budget, his last as Chancellor, abolished the 10% income tax rate for the lowest earners (5.1 million people), increasing their rate to the next highest, 20%. Earners who fell within the 22% tax rate band had their rate reduced to 20%, and tax allowances were also made for over-65s. These measures came into effect in April 2008. The "10p tax rate cut" as it was commonly referred to, was sharply criticised by Frank Field and several other backbenchers. Field also made comments saying that Brown did not seem to be enjoying his job. Health Secretary Alan Johnson believed that Field was motivated primarily by a personal dislike of Brown, and Field later apologised, saying that he had regretted allowing his campaign to "become personal". In the face of protests such as this though, Chancellor Alistair Darling cut the tax rate for 22 million people, and borrowed around £2.7 bn to reimburse those on lower and middle incomes who had suffered.
In the summer of 2008, Brown's leadership was presented with a fresh challenge as a large number of senior MPs openly called for him to resign. This event was dubbed the 'Lancashire Plot', as two backbenchers from North West England urged him to step down and a third questioned his chances of holding on to the Labour Party leadership. Several MPs argued that if Brown did not recover in the polls by early 2009, he should call for a leadership contest. However, certain prominent MPs, such as Jacqui Smith and Bill Rammell, suggested that Brown was the right person to lead Britain through its economic crisis.
A second assault upon Brown's premiership was launched in the autumn of that year, when Siobhain McDonagh, a MP who during her time in office had never voted against the government, spoke of the need for discussion over Brown's position. McDonagh, a junior government whip, was sacked from her role shortly afterwards, on 12 September. Whilst McDonagh did not state that she wanted Brown deposed, she implored the Labour party to hold a leadership election. McDonagh spoke of a "huge number" of Labour MPs who wanted a leadership election; her views were somewhat substantiated in the following days when several Labour MPs, including Field, Joan Ryan (who applied, as McDonagh had, for leadership nomination papers, and became the second rebel to be fired from her job), Jim Dowd, Greg Pope, and a string of others who had previously held positions in government, made clear their desire for a contest. In an unrelated incident, 12 backbenchers signed their names to a letter criticising Brown in Progress magazine. Eric Joyce, one of the MPs who signed this letter, said that Brown's future hinged on his performance at the upcoming Labour party conference.
A Downing Street source responded to these revelations by stating that, "The Blairites have been talking up the idea of loads of ministers resigning. But the best they can come up with is an assistant government whip." Tony Lloyd, chairman of the parliamentary Labour Party, labelled the rebellion a "bit of a sideshow", and Emily Thornberry MP called Brown the "best qualified" to lead Britain through the economic crisis of 2008. The Labour party admitted that it had received letters from a small number of MPs querying why no nomination papers had been released.
In the face of this growing speculation over Brown's future, the majority of his ministers also backed him to lead the party, and two, Harriet Harman and David Miliband, vigorously denied that they were preparing leadership bids. After the shock loss that Labour suffered in the Glasgow East by-election in July, Harman, the deputy leader of the party, suppressed rumours regarding her intentions, saying that Brown was the "solution", not the "problem"; Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Justice Secretary Jack Straw, Schools Secretary Ed Balls and Cabinet Office Minister Ed Miliband all re-affirmed their support for Brown. The deputy Prime Minister under Blair, John Prescott, also pledged his support. Foreign Secretary David Miliband was then forced to deny that he was plotting a leadership bid, when on 30 July, an article written by him in The Guardian was interpreted by a large number in the media as an attempt to undermine Brown. In the article, Miliband outlined the party's future, but neglected to mention the Prime Minister. Miliband, who had been forced to quell rumours that he would run against Brown in the leadership election of 2007, responded to this by saying that he was confident Brown could lead Labour to victory in the 2010 General Election, and that his article was an attack against the fatalism that had dogged the party since the loss of Glasgow-East. Miliband continued to show his support for Brown in the face of the challenge that emerged in September, as did Business Secretary John Hutton, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, and Chief Whip Geoff Hoon.
2009 local and European elections
Labour suffered a historic defeat in the local elections and European elections, finishing third place behind the Conservatives and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Voter apathy was reflected in the historically low turnout of around 33%. In Scotland, voter turnout was only 28%. In the local elections, Labour finished third place behind the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, with Labour losing control of the four councils it had held prior to the election. In a vote widely considered to be a reaction to the expenses scandal, the share of the votes was down for all the major parties; Labour was down 1%, the Conservative share was down 5%t. The beneficiary of the public backlash was generally seen to be the minor parties, including the Green party and UKIP. Brown was quoted in the press as having said that the results were "a painful defeat for Labour", and that "too many good people doing so much good for their communities and their constituencies have lost through no fault of their own."
The days leading up to the elections saw the resignations of several high profile cabinet ministers. These included the Europe Minister Caroline Flint, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, the Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, and Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell, who resigned minutes after the polls for the local and European elections had closed, and sent a letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to step aside.
The results of the local elections were announced the following day, with the remaining councils under Labour Party control all falling to the Conservative Party's control. The projected national vote shares suggested that the Conservatives achieved 38% of the vote, the Liberal Democrats 28% and Labour 23%. In the aftermath of these results, Brown reshuffled his cabinet amidst some pressure on his leadership. Further pressure was added following the results of the European parliamentary elections, which were announced on 7 June. These showed large declines in the vote of the Labour Party. The far-right British National Party also won their first ever seats in a national election, being elected in North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber.
All of these events led to mounting speculation about Brown's future as Prime Minister, and a possible leadership challenge. However, after facing down his critics, Gordon Brown was applauded at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on 8 June. Brown continued to be unpopular, however, and in September, Britain's biggest selling newspaper, The Sun announced that it would withdraw its support for the Labour Party and gave its backing to the Conservatives, thus ending 12 years of support for Labour from the paper.
An attempt was eventually made to challenge Brown's leadership when, in January 2010 Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon wrote to Labour MPs calling for a secret ballot on the issue. Their letter claimed that the party was "deeply divided" and the issue should be sorted out "once and for all". However, the plot failed to gather any momentum after several senior cabinet ministers spoke out in support of Brown.
Allegations of bullying
On 31 January 2010, the Mail on Sunday reported that a book written by the journalist Andrew Rawnsley would make allegations that Brown had flown into a series of rages and physically attacked members of his staff. The claims were fiercely denied by Brown's colleagues, and by Brown himself in an interview with the television presenter Piers Morgan in which he said "I have never hit anybody in my life." The book, The End of the Party, was published on 1 March 2010 after being serialised in a Sunday newspaper throughout February.
In February 2010 Christine Pratt, founder of the National Bullying Helpline claimed that the helpline had taken calls from Downing Street staff, although she later stated that the calls did not refer to Brown himself. This led to the resignations of three of the charity's patrons: Cary Cooper, Ann Widdecombe and Sarah Cawood. The Charity Commission later said that it had received over 160 complaints concerning the helpline's handling of the situation, and as a result of the fallout it was voluntarily suspended, although it resumed service two days later.
2010 general election
On 6 April 2010, Gordon Brown visited Buckingham Palace to seek the Queen's permission to dissolve Parliament on 12 April, thus triggering a general election on 6 May. Announcing the election shortly afterwards, Brown described it as the "least well-kept secret of recent years", since 6 May had been predicted as the most likely date for an election for some time. Labour's manifesto for the election was unveiled by Brown on 12 April under the party's election slogan of "A future fair for all", with the Prime Minister saying that Labour had a "plan for the future". Key pledges in the manifesto included;
- No rise in income tax rate during the next Parliament
- No extension in VAT to food and children's clothes
- A new global banks levy
- No stamp duty for first time buyers on homes below £250,000
- A pledge to raise minimum wage in line with earnings
- The right for constituents to recall MPs
- Referendums on democratic House of Lords and changing the voting system
- Plans to double paternity leave from two to four weeks
- A pledge not to privatise Royal Mail during the next Parliament
The main opposition parties were critical in their response to the manifesto. The Conservative Party said that it would "change nothing", while the Liberal Democrats claimed that Labour wouldn't reform tax and politics. Conservative leader David Cameron said: "There is nothing new there, there is nothing different there." Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg questioned how Labour could deliver "fairness and new politics" when they had promised the same at previous general elections, but failed to do so.
The election campaign saw the United Kingdom's first televised debates between the leaders of the three main parties. While Cameron and Clegg were generally perceived to have performed well in these, Brown was seen to have done less well. Brown also attracted criticism from the media after privately describing on 28 April, whilst in a car with his staff, a 65-year-old pensioner, Gillian Duffy, from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, as a "bigoted woman" after she stated that entitled people were not receiving benefits because non-entitled people are receiving them. She also expressed her displeasure at immigration from Eastern Europe. His remarks were recorded by a Sky News microphone he was still wearing following a visit to Rochdale, and widely broadcast.
At the election Labour lost 91 seats in the House of Commons, but the rival Conservatives failed to achieve an overall majority, resulting in the first hung parliament since 1974. Under the constitution governing what happens in the event of a hung parliament Brown remained temporarily as prime minister, while the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives entered into talks aimed at forming a coalition government. Talks also took place between the Liberal Democrats and Labour. On 10 May, Brown announced his intention to step down as leader of the Labour Party, and instructed the party to put into motion the processes to elect a new leader. Brown's continued presence as Prime Minister was seen as a stumbling block to formulating a Labour-Liberal Democrat deal. By 11 May, however, the possibility of a deal was looking unlikely as talks between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats continued, and after concluding that he would not be able to form a government, Brown announced his resignation. He also said that he would be stepping down as leader of the Labour Party with immediate effect. Brown was succeeded as Prime Minister by David Cameron, while Harriet Harman became acting leader of the Labour Party.
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