Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
12 October 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 4:05am

Andrew Adonis on Gordon Brown

The former transport secretary recalls his “astonishment” at being co-opted on to “Team Brown”.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

Tucked away among the many riches in this week’s New Statesman, guest-edited by Melvyn Bragg, is Andrew Adonis’s review of Steve Richards’s new book, Whatever It Takes: the Real Story of Gordon Brown and New Labour. The former transport secretary, who, as he puts it, saw “both the Blair and Brown leaderships from the inside”, endorses Richards’s claim that the relationship between the two New Labour principals was subject to “angry oversimplifications” (by journalists as well as by Blair and Brown themselves) almost from the beginning:

I entirely endorse Richards’s argument that to characterise Brown as “anti-” and Blair as “pro-” reform is to describe them inadequately. Brown always had a greater concern than Blair to appease the anti-reform left of the Labour coalition. But, for all Blair’s New Labour rhetorical fireworks, he, too, was no mean coalition-builder with the left on everything except Iraq, as John Prescott’s 13 years as his immoveable deputy bear testament. Even where there was a clear TB-GB “pro-” and “anti-” reform argument, as in the lengthy debate between them about whether the UK should join the eurozone, the best case was not always on Blair’s side.

And Adonis says that as “one of the most ardent Blairites”. He doesn’t deny that his “relations with Team Brown were constantly tense and difficult”, and says that towards the end of Blair’s premiership, he “exchanged barely a word” with the then chancellor of the Exchequer. But then he reveals the content of a conversation he had with Brown shortly after he entered No 10:

[T]o my astonishment, within days of Blair announcing his resignation, a call came from the chancellor’s office inviting me to meet him soonest. Brown not only asked me to stay on as schools minister, but spoke approvingly, and with insight, about the very reform strategy and programme that had been carried through in the teeth of Treasury opposition for the previous six years. “I come with a policy, and I wouldn’t want to stay unless you wish me to carry on with it,” I said. “I know, and that’s what I want,” he replied without missing a beat.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

We went on to discuss the substance of the academies programme and other ongoing education reforms with no disagreement whatever. Thereafter I found him entirely supportive, we developed a strong mutual respect and dialogue, and – astonishment again – I ended up in his cabinet, following agreement with him on taking forward another bold and controversial reform plan, this time high-speed rail at the Department for Transport.

As Adonis goes on to remind us, the discord between Blair and Brown “never required ideology as a motive” – after all, it was Brown, and not Blair, who was the intellectual architect of New Labour. The reasons “Brown became so obstructive” are clear: “It was largely a matter of political ambition and calculation . . . Brown always thought he should have been leader of the party first, and would have done the job better.”