Brown: We must listen, learn and connect with voters

Exclusive interview: Chancellor issues thinly coded warning to Tony Blair - but says no handover of leadership 'at this stage'
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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown has urged the Labour government to "listen and learn" after its dramatic defeat on the terror Bill last week.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has admitted the Cabinet will have to "work at it" to get its programme of public service reforms.

He said the Government and Labour MPs now had a "duty" to work together to avoid future Commons defeats.

In an apparent reference to a future handover of power from Tony Blair, he said "at this stage" it would be wrong for "personalities or individuals" to be discussed.

There was, he added, a problem of "engagement" with politics in the country and said politicians must work harder to connect with the public.

The Chancellor's intervention came as pressure on Mr Blair from within the Labour Party increased dramatically. Labour MPs yesterday held secret meetings and frantic telephone conversations. They discussed ways to force the Prime Minister to announce a timetable for an early departure from office, blaming him for being "inflexible" over the terror Bill.

Senior Labour MPs were also openly discussing whether to ask John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, or even Alastair Campbell, to act as a power broker.

The Government has had to shelve plans to launch far-reaching reforms to incapacity benefit until January, to avoid a further embarrassing defeat in the Commons before Christmas. Mr Blair has also been forced to delay proposals to table an education Bill containing controversial reforms allowing private firms to sponsor "trust" schools.

"Political parties have got to look at what they are offering people and how they can best articulate and respond to people's needs," he said.

But, in remarks that will be interpreted at Westminster as a thinly veiled warning to Tony Blair to take more notice of the views of backbench MPs and Labour Party members, the Chancellor said: "People feel that politicians and the public must connect more successfully. We need to listen to people."

He added: "The renewal of New Labour is going to be as big a challenge as the creation of New Labour. We have to listen and learn and talk to people round the country, and that is why I am visiting the regions to listen to what people say."

He added that more work needed to be done by the Government to persuade backbenchers to support its reform programme. "In this world you have to work at everything. We will continue to work at it."

Mr Brown's allies indicated last week that he would not move against the Prime Minister but would wait for a call from the Parliamentary Labour Party. He said it was wrong for "personalities or individuals" to dominate the debate.

"We are a Cabinet moving forward together, trying to make the right kind of decisions for the country. I really don't at this stage think that personalities or individuals come into it," he said.

The Chancellor admitted that the Government had failed to do enough to persuade MPs to support its anti-terror proposals. But he called for the party to pull together so it can renew itself in office.

"I accept that we didn't persuade enough people on this vote, but what I do believe is that people expect us to go ahead and take the long-term decisions that are necessary for the future of Britain by enacting our manifesto - and that is what we intend to do," he said. He warned Labour MPs to "accept they have a duty to implement the manifesto".

He said they should not have to rely on the Tories to push through their legislative programme on education and health. The Chancellor also refused to endorse Mr Blair's refusal to back reform of the Ministerial Code. Asked if he would accept the proposal to have an independent panel - rather than the Prime Minister - assess if there had been a breach of the rules on ministerial conduct, Mr Brown said it was up to the Prime Minister: "The decision on that code is a matter for Tony Blair, and I think that is where it is."

Mr Brown said politicians must find new ways of engaging with the public, acknowledging that some people are turned off by the way reforms are presented.

"People want to see change, but some of the traditional means by which change has been achieved are less attractive to them than they used to be. We have got to learn lessons from that," he said. "People feel that politicians and the public must connect more successfully."