Gordon Brown: A philosophical man down on his luck and running out of time

With an election looming and the economy slumping, the Prime Minister has reason to fear the verdict of voters. But this won't distract him, he tells Andrew Grice

The G20 circus has left town, and Gordon Brown looks tired – almost exhausted. But to the chagrin of his equally fatigued advisers, the Downing Street workload has not lessened since the frenetic run-up to last Thursday's summit between the leaders of the world's richest countries in London.

Mr Brown knows the voters will notice his Chancellor's Budget on 22 April much more than a summit that has already faded into history – and he is working overtime to convince the public that the world leaders' decisions at the G20 will make a difference at home.

Beyond that, he also knows he has little over a year before the ultimate test of an election which can be delayed no longer, amid the worst economic outlook since the 1930s and polls which suggest Labour is badly trailing the Conservatives.

Interviewed yesterday in the Thatcher Room, his study in No 10, he is still fizzing with new ideas for his domestic agenda, even though he may not have the money to pay for them. Mr Brown is adamant that what is good for the global economy is good for Britain. By the same token, he argued, the pace of any recovery here will depend in part on what happens abroad.

The Prime Minister is doomed to walk a tightrope: he is desperate to project a positive vision for the new "low carbon" British economy that will emerge from the recession.

Yet he cannot prophesise when recovery will come, despite some tentative signs of hope in the housing market and service industries. Two of his own ministers, Baroness Vadera and Vera Baird, have already been shot down for talking up "green shoots".

"Nobody is going to get into the business of forecasts or projections," Mr Brown declared. "A lot depends on what happens internationally – if the monetary and fiscal stimulus can multiply and magnify, if there is international co-operation over the next few months."

He denied being disappointed that the G20 meeting did not give him the cover for a big further fiscal stimulus in the forthcoming Budget, insisting there might be some limited room for manoeuvre. He pointed out that Meryvn King, the Bank of England Governor, had approved targeted fiscal action even while ruling out another big boost like the £20bn allocated in last November's pre-Budget report.

Was his meeting with Mr King on Monday to discuss follow-up to the G20 summit a friendly one? "Absolutely," he smiled.

Mr Brown is trying to recreate the successful mix of decisiveness, long-term strategy and domination of the political agenda which allowed him to bounce back in the opinion polls when he rescued the banks last autumn. That momentum was lost in the new year, when a blizzard of government initiatives was eclipsed by the daily dose of job losses and grim economic forecasts.

The mix returned at the G20. Mr Brown now wants to maintain it with the Budget. But it will not be easy; even his own ministers admit privately that "there is no money in the kitty".

Some will be found to help the jobless back into work. "What brought me into politics was that I saw the waste of unemployment and importance of tackling it as quickly as possible, so we don't allow a large number of people to become unemployed." His mantra, he said, is "the opposite" to that of the former Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont, who declared that unemployment is a price worth paying.

Advisers want Mr Brown not to be sucked into day-to-day political combat as he focuses relentlessly on the recession, but he has inevitably been dragged into the deepening controversy over MPs' expenses. He conceded that the row is damaging the standing of politics generally and said he wanted to enact proposals from the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life "as quickly as possible".

Mr Brown said: "This can't be sorted out by one or two MPs talking to themselves. It has got to command broad public support. The rules have got to be sufficiently clear for everything that happens to be acceptable to the public. MPs have a duty to satisfy the public that public money is being spent well. I don't shirk from that responsibility."

What is his answer to David Cameron's proposal that ministers – himself included – who enjoy "grace and favour" homes should not draw the MPs' second homes allowance. (Mr Brown claimed £17,073 for his Fife constituency house in 2007-08.) The Prime Minister insisted he had always abided by the rules and would do so if they changed.

But he believed that the Tory leader did not understand the full position: he does incur costs at Downing Street – which is not "free" because, for example, he pays council tax on it. Despite his often-repeated concern about job losses, the economic crisis may have a silver lining. A year ago, Mr Brown said, no one would have thought it possible for the world to share a "new consensus" over banking regulation, tax havens, a fiscal stimulus and reform of bodies such as the International Monetary Fund.

"The world is changing very fast," he said. "We have got to make sure that Britain – which I believe in passionately – is equipped for these challenges of the future. That is my main point of action and concern."

Rehearsing his election lines against the Conservatives, Mr Brown insisted that the end of the free-market consensus – and need for greater regulation– could yet help Labour to neutralise the "time for change" factor that would normally play strongly for Mr Cameron.

"This is going to be a progressive decade. I think people do understand that some of the problems we had can only be solved, first of all, by governments working together with other governments, nations co-operating with nations. There is a new internationalism, a new strategic role for countries working together to solve common problems.

"There is a recognition that if we don't invest in the future – in areas such as education and the environment – we will not have the future people want to see. Those countries that invest in the future will be the successful countries of the future. Those who simply want to cut public spending, rein back on investment, be isolated in Europe, will not meet the progressive challenges of our times."

At their joint press conference last week, President Barack Obama, paying a glowing tribute to Mr Brown's leadership ahead of the G20 summit, gave him this friendly advice: "Over time, good policy is good politics." What did Mr Brown make of that? "It is what we are trying," he said.

Yet time is a precious commodity in politics and Mr Brown does not have much left as electoral clock ticks towards June 2010, by when he must call a general election. Mr Brown does not waste time looking at the calendar – yet. "The only matters that I wake up in the morning thinking about is how we get through this [recession] and build a better future," he said. "If I were to start thinking about all sorts of other things, it would be a mistake. I have to get on with the job."

Finally, does he ever fear, as some of those close to him do, that he will not reap any personal electoral benefit for his Herculean labours? "That is up to the voters," he said. "I will keep doing what is the right thing."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering