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UK Politics

Hutton admits saying Brown would be disaster as PM

It was one of the worst-kept secrets in Westminster: which cabinet minister said Gordon Brown would be a "fucking disaster" as prime minister before he had even stepped into 10 Downing Street?

It has taken John Hutton, the former defence secretary, three years and his imminent departure to admit what most in the Commons already knew. The staunch Blairite, who had campaigned for another Labour MP to challenge Mr Brown for the leadership, made the notoriously unflattering prediction of the current Prime Minster's skills in 2006. He was widely suspected of being the source of the comment, given to the BBC, but always met the accusation with a stony silence.

That tactic came to an abrupt end yesterday, though not before he made a final attempt to remain undercover. Initially only admitting that he had "very serious concerns" about Mr Brown's credentials as he refused to be unmasked, he eventually owned up after being pressed repeatedly on whether he was the source. "I did say it," he said. "Yes, I did. Yeah. Let's just get that over with."

Mr Hutton, who is stepping down as the MP for Barrow and Furness at the next election, said that he had made the criticism at a time of "high emotions" when Mr Brown's supporters were attempting to speed up Tony Blair's exit from No 10. He said the campaign to remove the former Prime Minister "reflected very badly" on Mr Brown and his backers. It led him to observe that Mr Brown would be an "absolute fucking disaster" if he ever took over the reins of power.

"I don't think that was really a period of history in our party that anyone of us should look back with any sort of pride about," he told BBC Radio 4's PM programme. "It was a very, very low point for us. Everyone who was involved in those machinations should hang their heads in shame. I think it was a very miserable period for us."

However, Mr Hutton added that his opinions of Mr Brown had changed since he took over as Prime Minister. "I think he has been a tremendously hard-working man, who has really put his heart and soul into it," he said. "I think he has, and certainly in all of his dealings with me, showed nothing but a great deal of support and help during my time as a minister. So I personally have no criticisms of Gordon's performance as Prime Minister at all."

In an intriguing final remark on the tumultuous period for his party, he said that it would not be long before the events that took place behind the scenes, which led to Mr Blair's departure from Downing Street, became public. "The truth always does."