Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

Ask the leaders: Brown battles back

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 08 April 2010

After a tumultuous three years in Downing Street, the prime minister will now hope his resilience will keep him in power. Gary Gibbon continues his #asktheleaders profiles looking at Gordon Brown. 

Gordon Brown on the campaign trail (Credit: Getty)

The recent allegations of bullying and temper tantrums at Number 10 had an effect which startled most political observers - the prime minister's ratings actually rose.

"Six months ago [the public] had an image of Gordon as being very wooden and machine-like, and they didn't find it very attractive," observes Peter Watt, former general secretary of the Labour Party.

"Suddenly they've got a Gordon who by his own admission is slightly flawed and imperfect and looks a bit more human, a bit more interesting and I think it's done him no harm at all."

Voters, it seems, feel there are more fundamental qualities they value in a prime minister. So what are these qualities, and how does Gordon Brown (See Gordon Brown's Who Knows Who profile) measure up?

"I think the qualities that a prime minister needs is first of all to have a grasp of policy," says Lord (Peter) Mandelson, the First Secretary of State.

Ask the leaders: more Channel 4 News coverage
- Candid Cameron
- Who is Nick Clegg?

"Secondly that they can create and build and retain a team, a strong, heavyweight team around them.

But they've also got to have backbone. They've got to be good in a crisis. So if I were to sum it up in three words it would be policy, team and backbone."

A firm Brown ally these days, Mandelson is convinced the Prime Minister has what it takes.

Peter Watt, who was forced out as General Secretary by Gordon Brown at the end of 2007 over funding irregularities, and is one of the few former insiders prepared to publicly criticise him, is less sure. The area of policy, he says, is one of his most striking failures.

"There was optimism that ... having spent so long thinking about and wanting to become Prime Minister that there would be a plan," says Watt.

"There was very little evidence that that existed in the first few months of the Brown premiership. It was almost like everyone around Gordon expected him to have that plan and it just wasn't there."

But Brown insists he does have a broad vision. "I think that we've got a very clear view of the future, but it is about the long term. ... We've been working on a programme that is about the future of our economy. That's not tactics, that's strategy. That's a plan for the future."

But in private Cabinet ministers tell you the broad strategic vision just hasn't been there, that it's been the single biggest flaw in Gordon Brown's premiership and, for some, the biggest surprise.

What of the second of Peter Mandelson's criteria - team leadership?

When Brown took over as prime minister he pledged to reach out and end the sofa government of the Blair years. But even as he walked through the door of Number 10, to those on the inside it looked rather different.

"I think in normal circumstances what you'd have is that Labour team A is leaving and Labour team B is walking onto set and you'd imagine there'd be some sort of handover, some sort of smoothness of the transition," says Peter Watt.

"How do you operate the phone-system in Downing St through to much bigger stuff. None of that happened and Tony's team walked out the back door ... at the same time as Gordon's team walked in through the front door and they never actually met in the middle."

Far from reaching out, Brown was not even talking to the other side of his own party. Even now colleagues admit his leadership style can be domineering and abrasive.

"He will always have five, six, seven, eight things that he wants to do that day and they have to be done," says Lord Mandelson. "And everyone has to jump ... And there is an almost bulldozer action that goes into operation from early in the morning and doesn't let up till late at night. … and woe betide anyone who has a different idea or wants to stand in the way or say no."

The fact there have been no fewer than four coup attempts against him, with cabinet ministers sometimes involved in the plotting, is not a glowing recommendation of his team-building skills.

But what of Lord Mandelson's final, most important criterion - backbone?

By general consent Gordon Brown showed great decisiveness during his most serious test - the banking crisis. But this has merely highlighted the degree to which he's struggled to make decisions at other times.

"I think it's always easier actually to make decisions in a crisis when you know you're time-limited," says Lord Myners, the Financial Services Minister.

"I think Gordon Brown's intellect is such that the minute he finds a route through to a solution, there's another voice that says, 'ah, but have you considered everything?'"

Matthew D'Ancona, the Conservative-supporting journalist who collaborated with Brown on a book in the early days of his premiership, paints a picture of a man who seems ill at ease in the job.

"As an academic if you like, as a thinker, as a philosopher, as an intellectual, there was this very flexible, very warm, very engaged character," D'Ancona says.

"But that character disappeared instantly if we were sitting in number 10, an official would bring in a piece of news, and his body language would literally change before one’s eyes from the very relaxed man engaged in conversation to someone who was hunched and clenched and suddenly frightened and alarmed."

The truth is that Gordon Brown has disappointed even his closest supporters. He didn't walk taller in the top job and voters in their swathes took against him.

But there is one quality he has shown - sheer, dogged, bloody-minded resilience. He's still there, fighting. And, who knows, he might just still be there in four weeks time.

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Vote 2010 news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Winners and losers


What can we expect from the Con-Lib Dem coalition government?

Cabinet connections

The Con-Lib coalition Cabinet (Reuters)

Who Knows Who looks for "new politics" in the Con-Lib Cabinet

Marriage of convenience

Wedding cake (Getty)

Can former political rivals make the Con-Lib coalition work?

Missing women?


With four women cabinet members has old politics really ended?

The rise and fall of Brown


The events that defined and ended Brown's political career.

Sibling rivalry?


Who Knows Who finds out who could replace Gordon Brown.

Loss leaders

Jacqui Smith (Getty)

Jacqui Smith is one of several high- profile election losers.

Election night in 60

Blue Big Ben

From single-party rule to a hung parliament in one minute.

Election results - live blog

Live blog teaser

Missed the day? Read our live blog to see how it happened.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.