Gordon Brown’s statement: full transcript

“I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed.”

Gordon Brown, 5pm, Monday 10 May 2010:

We have a parliamentary and not presidential system in this country, and as I said on Friday, with no party able to command a parliamentary majority arising from the general election, my constitutional duty as Prime Minister is to ensure that government continues while parties explore options for forming a new administration with majority support in the House of Commons.

The business of government has continued, including concerted action in Europe today to avert the financial crisis in the euro area. Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, spent much of his time yesterday in the European finance ministers' meeting in Brussels.

This morning I have had conversations with the president of the European Council, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and the president of the European Central Bank. I have said I would do all I could to ensure that a stable, strong and principled government is formed, able to tackle Britain's economic and political challenges effectively.

As we know, the Liberal Democrats felt that they should first talk to the Conservative Party. Mr Clegg has just informed me that while he intends to continue his dialogue that he has begun with the Conservatives, he now wishes also to take forward formal discussions with the Labour Party. I believe it is sensible and it is in the national interest to respond positively.

The cabinet will meet soon. A formal policy negotiating process is being established under the arrangements made by the Cabinet Secretary, similar to the negotiations between other parties. The first priority should be an agreed deficit reduction plan, to support economic growth and a return to full employment. I know that both parties recognise the importance of ensuring economic stability in the markets and protecting Britain's standing, and both are agreed on the need for a strong and full deficit reduction plan over the coming years.

There is also a progressive majority in Britain and I believe it could be in the interests of the whole country to form a progressive coalition government. In addition to the economic priorities, in my view only such a progressive government can meet the demand for political and electoral change which the British people made last Thursday. Our commitments on a new voting system for the House of Commons and for the election of the House of Lords are clearly part of this.

I would however like to say something also about my own position. If it becomes clear that the national interest, which is stable and principled government, can be best served by forming a coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, then I believe I should discharge that duty, to form that government, which would in my view command a majority in the House of Commons in the Queen's Speech and any other confidence votes.

But I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed to ensure the path to economic growth is assured and the process of political reform we have agreed moves forward quickly. The reason that we have a hung parliament is that no single party and no single leader was able to win the full support of the country. As leader of my party, I must accept that that is a judgement on me. I therefore intend to ask the Labour Party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election. I would hope that it would be completed in time for the new leader to be in post by the time of the Labour party conference. I will play no part in that contest, I will back no individual candidate.

I believe that the British people now want us to focus on the economy, the continuing fight against terrorism -- the terrorist threat to our country -- they want us to continue to pursue the economic recovery, and I will do so with my usual vigour and determination and I will do all in my power to support the British troops whose service and sacrifice create a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay. And I believe on Thursday the country was also telling us that they want a new politics and that the political reforms we seek will help deliver that change. I now intend to facilitate the discussions that the Liberal Democratic party has asked for. Thank you very much. As you will understand, I will take no questions this evening. Other discussions can be had later. Thank you very much.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Autumn Statement 2015: How should Labour respond?

The government always gets a boost out of big setpieces. But elections are won over months not days. 

Three days in the political calendar are utterly frustrating for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – the Queen’s Speech, the Budget and the Autumn Statement. No matter how unpopular the government is – and however good you are as an opposition - this day is theirs. The government will dominate the headlines. And played well they will carry the preceding with pre-briefed good news too. You just have to accept that, but without giving in or giving up.

It is a cliche that politics is a marathon not a sprint, but like most cliches that observation is founded in truth. So, how best to respond on the days you can’t win? Go to the fundamentals. And do the thing that oddly is far too little done in responses to budgets or autumn statements – follow the money.

No choices in politics are perfect - they are always trade offs. The art is in balancing compromises not abolishing them. The politics and the values are expressed in the choices that you make in prioritising. This is particularly true in budgets where resources are allocated across geographies - between towns, cities and regions, across time - short term or long term, and across the generations - between young and old. To govern is to choose. And the choices reveal. They show the kind of country the government want to create - and that should be the starting point for the opposition. What kind of Britain will we be in five, ten, fifteen years as these decisions have their ultimate, cumulative impact?

Well we know, we are already living in the early days of it. The Conservative government is creating a country in which there are wealthy pensioners living in large homes they won, while young people who are burdened with debts cannot afford to buy a home. One in which health spending is protected - albeit to a level a third below that of France or Germany – while social care, in an ageing society, is becoming residualised. One where under-regulated private landlords have to fill the gap in the rented market caused by the destruction of the social housing sector.

But description, though, is not sufficient. It is only the foundation of a critique - one that will succeed only if it describes not only the Britain the Tories are building but also the better one that Labour would deliver. Not prosaically in the form of a Labour programme, but inspirationally as the Labour promise.

All criticism of the government – big and little – has to return to this foundational narrative. It should connect everything. And it is on this story that you can anchor an effective response to George Osborne. Whatever the sparklers on the day or the details in the accompanying budgetary documentation, the trajectory is set. The government know where they are going. So do informed commentators. A smart opposition should too. The only people in the dark are the voters. They feel a pinch point here, a cut there, an unease and unfairness everywhere – but they can’t sum it up in words. That is the job of the party that wants to form a government – describing in crisp, consistent and understandable terms what is happening.

There are two traps on the day. The first is narrowcasting - telling the story that pleases you and your closest supporters. In that one the buzzwords are "privatisation" and "austerity". It is the opposite of persuasion aimed, as it is, at insiders. The second is to be dazzled by the big announcements of the day. Labour has fallen down here badly recently. It was obvious on Budget Day that a rise in the minimum wage could not compensate for £12bn of tax credit cuts. The IFS and the Resolution Foundation knew that. So did any adult who could do arithmetic and understood the distributional impact of the National Minimum Wage. It could and should have been Labour that led the charge, but frontbenchers and backbenchers alike were transfixed by the apparent appropriation of the Living Wage. A spot of cynicism always comes in handy. In politics as in life, if something seems to be too good to be true then … it is too good to be true.

The devil may be in the detail, but the error is in the principle – that can be nailed on the day. Not defeated or discredited immediately, but the seeds planted.  

And, if in doubt, take the government at their word. There is no fiercer metric against which to measure the Tories than their own rhetoric. How can the party of working people cut the incomes of those who have done the right thing? How can the party who promised to protect the health service deliver a decade of the lowest ever increases in spending? How can the party of home ownership banish young people to renting? The power in holding a government to account is one wielded forensically and eloquently for it is in the gap between rhetoric and reality that ordinary people’s lives fall.

The key fact for an opposition is that it can afford to lose the day if it is able to win the argument. That is Labour’s task.