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.
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.”