Hello, Mr Rafique? This is the Prime Minister calling

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Indy Politics

When Wajid Rafique's phone rang one morning after a late night out in Nelson, Lancashire, he was still in bed. It could have been anyone, a neighbour, a friend, a colleague. But it was the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Bleary-eyed and somewhat dishevelled, Mr Rafique struggled to contain his astonishment as the caller explained she was on the line from No 10 Downing Street and that Gordon Brown was waiting to talk to him about the letter he had written to him several months ago.

Mr Rafique, 30, said he had never expected a formal reply, let alone a personal call, when he wrote to protest against the presence of British troops in Iraq. He said: "The woman said she was going to connect me to the Prime Minister. A few seconds passed and the Prime Minister came on the phone."

Mr Brown "talked through" his letter, Mr Rafique said on the BBC News website, and "apologised on behalf of the Labour government for what had happened to the people of Iraq".

Mr Rafique added: "The Prime Minister said he fully understood how I felt and said he would give his full concentration on the withdrawal of the British troops."

He said Mr Brown had brought the conversation to a close after about four minutes by saying "how nice it was nice speaking to me". Mr Rafique, who said he was not a Labour voter, added: "I believed what he said and felt like he was on my side."

He is not the only person to have received such a call in recent months. Yesterday it was confirmed that Mr Brown routinely asks the switchboards to put him through to letter-writers. The magazine PR Week claimed the personal approach was part of a new campaign to "humanise" the Prime Minister in voters' eyes.

But Downing Street said Mr Brown had been ringing voters to discuss policy since his days as chancellor. It denied a report that the Prime Minister once called a member of the public at 6am. David Blunkett, the former home secretary, said he believed ringing voters at a home was a good way of staying of staying in touch.

He said: "I would be quite pleased if I were a member of the public and the Prime Minister was on the phone. Not necessarily very early – because I don't warm to that – but actually listening to people and being able to respond."

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