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23 September 2009

Gordon Brown and the “cast-iron guarantee“

Will the Prime Minister be leading Labour into the next election?

By Mehdi Hasan

Tomorrow’s relaunched issue of the New Statesman includes our exclusive interview with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, ahead of the G20 meeting of world leaders in Pittsburgh on Thursday and the Labour party conference in Brighton, from 27 September.

Inevitably, given Brown’s current problems, my colleague James Macintyre and I had to ask the Prime Minister “the leadership question” — will he stay or will he go? (Charles Clarke has a suggestion.)

From the transcript, here’s what we asked (and note the PM’s precise and parsed answers):

Just returning to something you said earlier about “you’ve got a job to do”: you are obviously close to this Labour party conference coming up. Can you give the British public, New Statesman readers et cetera, a cast-iron guarantee that you will be the man leading the Labour Party into the next election?

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I hope people will see by my actions the determination I have to work not just for the Labour Party, but work on behalf of the British people. It’s typical sometimes to explain how resolute I am about the challenges ahead. I think by describing the future as I see it and being pretty straightforward with you about parties that duck the big choices and don’t make them, and a party like ours that is prepared to make the big choices, I think you see where I am trying to take the country. So I am pretty determined and resolute.

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Prime Minister, if you believed that another candidate was better suited to lead the party to success in the election, would you stand aside?

That’s not the issue at the moment. The issue at the moment is that the Labour Party has to take this country through a very difficult time. I think we’ll be judged by results but I think we made the right choices. This is the time for us [to show] the party not really what we’ve done, but what we’re going to do together for the future.

This is the party you’ve loved and believed in. If you felt that there was someone else better – In other words, are you going to stay on because you think you’re the right man?

Look at what I’m doing. I tried to deal with the financial collapse in a way that showed that Britain was leading the world and taking these problems seriously and helping people not just in Britain, but around the world. I’ve tried to bring the world together in the G20. These are the things that I have tried to do and have been able to do, and I think the global economy and how we deal with it, and how Britain fares in it, how the jobs and the mortgages and the savings and businesses in Britain can thrive in the future, is, I think, still the central issue. I think my credentials for dealing with that issue are very strong.

There have been one or two rebellions that have failed. The cabinet seems to have rallied behind you. Going into conference, isn’t it right you give a message you are going on until the election?

But I’ve given that message.

But you haven’t actually said explicitly that you will be leader until the election.

Of course I’m going on. I mean, for goodness’ sake, I wouldn’t be having this interview with you if I wasn’t determined to get my message across to the British people.

No, of course. Millions of people buy the Mail on Sunday and see Adam Boulton’s book saying Tony Blair says you’re a quitter, you’re going to duck the next election, you’re not a fighter.

I don’t think Tony Blair has ever said that. I think you’ve got to be pretty certain about what I’m saying – explaining my answer in different ways – that we’ve got a big job of work to do. It is very important that we see it through.

So, our questions to Gordon Brown raise a further set of questions:

* Why did the Prime Minister not give that explicit, “cast-iron” guarantee that we asked for – on whether he would lead Labour into the general election next year?
* When asked whether he would stand aside for a better candidate, why did the PM answer: “That’s not the issue at the moment”? So when does it become the issue, as Sky’s Joey Jones puts it?
* Who’s right on whether or not Blair called Brown a “quitter”? Gordon Brown or Adam Boulton?

You can read our full interview with the Prime Minister in tomorrow’s magazine — as well my new Dissident Voice column, in which I take apart Britain’s right-wing echo chamber.