Gordon Brown ‘wanted to stand down within a year’
Number Ten aide says former PM knew his weaknesses and was talked out of promising to resign
Gordon Brown was so aware of his low popularity and the damage it might cause Labour in the recent general election that he wanted to promise the electorate he would stand down within a year, according to a report in the Guardian.
But while his chief polling adviser, David Muir, supported the idea, other senior Labour figures - Ed Balls, Lord Mandelson and Douglas Alexander - were against it and eventually talked him out of it.
An adviser who was present at the meeting where Brown's plan was discussed, told the Guardian: "Gordon was under no illusions about his popularity, or the degree to which he was a barrier to Labour's re-election."
The adviser said Brown planned to make his promise to the electrorate in his first campaign speech on April 7. He drafted the speech himself and fully intended to say that once the economic recovery was secured, and his promised referendum on electoral reform was in place, he would stand aside.
"He was serious about it," the adviser said. "In many ways it showed he was ahead of the rest of us."
But Balls, Mandelson and Alexander argued against the idea on the basis that it would repeat the difficulties suffered by Labour after Tony Blair chose to announce before the 2005 election that he did not intend to serve a full term. There ensued a "will-he-won't-he go?" saga that left Blair a lame duck and dogged the Labour government until mid 2007 when he finally stood down.
And so Brown agreed not to do it. As a compromise, it was agreed among the Number Ten aides that he could say during the course of the campaign that he would step down when he felt he was no longer useful as prime minister - which he did. But when asked directly by interviewers whether he would serve a full term, he said he would.
The implications of the Guardian story are fascinating. Might it have made any difference if he had been allowed to say what he wanted? But The First Post's Westminster insider, the Mole, said today: "The really big question the Guardian story raises is this: if he acknowledged his weaknesses as a leader, then why on earth did he not stand aside earlier for David Miliband?
"It is pretty clear now that Labour under a more attractive leader could have won the election with a majority." ·
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