Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Gordon Brown answers your questions

Was it wrong to invade Iraq? Do you believe in God? Any chance of joining the euro? What's really on your iPod? Are you a Stalinist control freak? Would you have cancelled the BAE inquiry? Have you ever taken illegal drugs?

In an answer of one word, and with the benefit of hindsight, was it wrong to invade Iraq?

SIMON O'CONNOR, Liverpool

No.

You were the one person who could have stopped Blair signing up to the invasion of Iraq, either by threatening to quit or publicly opposing it. How do you feel about putting your career ahead of the lives of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of British soldiers?

SARAH HILLS, Guildford

I don't doubt that you hold your views about the war sincerely. We know it has been a divisive issue for our party and our country, but I hope you'll accept that I hold my views sincerely too. There's no doubt that mistakes were made in our planning for what happened after the removal of Saddam, and I think it's important to learn the lessons and to go forward knowing that proper procedures are going to be in place that will command the confidence not just of Parliament but the confidence of the public. We will learn all the lessons that need to be learnt.

Do you ever wake in the night and think of all those dead Iraqi children?

ANN PHILLIPS, by email

Any such loss of life is a tragedy. As Prime Minister, I will work tirelessly for peace and security for all the children in Iraq, and for the safe return of our armed forces once their job is done.

After the nightmare of Iraq, will you promise not to join any American invasion of Iran?

CALLUM MACINTYRE, Aberdeen

There is no plan to attack Iran. We have always wanted to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear programme through diplomacy and negotiation. This means we must work through the UN and the EU as we have done each time Iran has failed to comply with the will of the international community. In turn Iran must take its responsibilities seriously and comply fully with the Security Council's resolutions.

How will life be different under a Brown government?

JOHN BROOKS, by email

I will let you answer that question in a year's time. I hope you'll say you feel safer on the streets and more prosperous, more confident in your local schools and hospitals, and you'll have a bit more trust in the political system. Generally, I hope you'll say you think the Government's on your side and listening to you.

As a historian by training what do you think an understanding of history can bring to the office of Prime Minister?

KEITH FLETT, London N17

Nice to hear from you Keith! Experiencing 10 years as Chancellor is good preparation for the challenges which I will face as Prime Minister. But knowing a bit about the lessons of history helps as well. Although there's always a debate about when you can start learning the lessons of history. There's the old story of Chou En Lai being asked in the 1970s to assess the impact of the French Revolution, and replying: "It's too early to tell."

Do you believe in God? And if you do, do your religious views influence your life and your politics?

AMRIT SINGH, London

Yes I do. While this of course influences your life, religious faith is a personal matter. My life and politics are influenced by the values and principles I grew up with: a belief in fairness, justice and opportunity; the belief that every person in the world should be able to make the most of their talents.

Why should we trust you when you have raided and destroyed millions of pensions?

DAVID P STANSFIELD, London E14

In 1996, the assets of pension funds were £549bn. By 1999, they were £820bn. By 2006, even after the stock market crash, the assets of pension funds were more than a trillion pounds. In other words, the assets of pension funds have doubled in that period. Now there's a separate issue about the 125,000 men and women who lost their occupational pensions when their companies went bust, and for those individuals, we have introduced the first-ever financial assistance scheme.

Do you regret selling off our gold reserves at such ludicrously low prices? And doesn't it throw your judgement into question?

A KHAN, Birmingham

We sold gold so we could diversify our reserves to hold more foreign currencies, and reduce the risks you get in concentrating too much of your holdings in one commodity. Many other countries made the same decision at the same time. I made that decision on the best advice of the Treasury, and believe it will stand the test of time.

Any chance of joining the euro under your premiership?

NIGEL VERNON, by email

I look forward to the advice of the next Chancellor!

Why bother with "Britishness"? We've done fine without it.

DAVID GARLAND, by email

I'm not sure I agree with you, David. I would argue it is Britishness, British institutions and British values which have brought about our greatest achievements, and which bind together our different regions and nations into one country. How would Britain have stood up to fascism in the Second World War if we hadn't been united as a nation around our shared identity and beliefs? So I don't think we do fine without it. I think we cannot survive and flourish without it.

Do you still want to see a Union flag in every garden? And do you fly one in your garden in Scotland?

JOHN BROWN (no relation), Glasgow

The question I asked some months ago was: what is the British equivalent of the ways in which American families celebrate their patriotism, with flags in the front yard and parties on 4 July and Thanksgiving. We do not necessarily need to follow suit in those ways, but I argued that we do need a debate about how we celebrate our Britishness, and whether we need to do more.

Do you think it's right that you can vote in Parliament on issues affecting English people but English MPs can't vote on issues affecting your own Scottish constituents?

BRIAN MACKENZIE, by email

I think a system where MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were excluded from voting in the Commons would inevitably lead to the break-up of the Union so I will never support it.

Can there be too many Scottish people in a British cabinet?

NICK BAKER, by email

We are a United Kingdom cabinet.

How do you feel about the growing divisions between England and Scotland, such as in health treatments, higher education and long-term care for the elderly? Doesn't it make all this Britishness stuff rather absurd?

BEN JAY, Bath

Of course devolution means that different choices can be made on issues that are reserved to the Scottish Parliament. But I believe the values that unite us as British people are stronger than any policy differences between the regions and nations of the country.

Do you really think the public is fooled by stunts such as pretending to like the Arctic Monkeys or that your favourite goal was that one of Gazza's against your home nation? And do you still stand by these statements?

STEVE O'BRIEN, by email

No I don't stand by them - because I never said them in the first place. I was asked to choose between James Blunt or Arctic Monkeys - I actually said I didn't like either, but that the Arctic Monkeys would certainly wake you up in the morning... that became: "Brown wakes up to the Arctic Monkeys. " Then I was asked to choose the best England game I'd ever been to. I said the Euro '96 game against Scotland with Gazza's winning goal, because it was the best atmosphere I'd ever experienced, even though Scotland lost. That became: "Brown says Gazza's goal was his favourite ever." These things happen, and you learn as you go along not to say things which could be misinterpreted. So if some of these answers sound boring, you'll understand why.

What bores you?

CELIA SIMPSON, by email

Explaining things I've never said.

What is really on your iPod?

KIM BAKER, Paris

Lots of the music I grew up with: Motown, Sinatra, and lots of Sixties and Seventies classics. The last time I was asked this, I mentioned the Beatles and some people tried to get me prosecuted for illegally downloading their albums so I won't mention them!

What is your favourite television programme?

P BARRON, by email

I thought Andrew Marr's recent series on modern British history was fascinating, and he'd unearthed some amazing footage. I also think Britain's Got Talent was an amazing leap of faith by Simon Cowell - both to trust that this great swell of hidden talent would emerge, and to have confidence that people would enjoy watching an old-fashioned variety show. But he was right to have faith. It's been a tremendous success, and I think people will already be excited about the next one.

Do you think that the way Alan Sugar treats people on The Apprentice sends out the wrong message about modern business?

SIMON HOUSDEN, Manchester

I've worked with Sir Alan for many years, and I don't think I've known anyone who is better at inspiring children and young people to think about becoming entrepreneurs - he has a real gift, and I think it's one of the reasons The Apprentice has been such a success.

Now that the Tube line company Metronet is asking the taxpayer to pay for its £1bn cost overruns, do you still think it was worth spending £500m of public money to force through the privatisation of the London Underground in the teeth of overwhelming public and expert opposition?

TONY BIRD, London SE11

The Tube PPP has enabled us to put huge investment into the Tube to tackle decades of neglect. Whatever form this investment had taken, private companies would have done the work, but under the PPP, they also take on their share of the risks. So where there are cost overruns, an independent arbiter makes a proper assessment of how much the company needs to pay, and how much comes from the taxpayer, rather than the taxpayer having to foot the entire bill as happened in the past.

How different would things be now if John Smith had lived?

MARK CAMPBELL, by email

We can never know, and that is a tragedy.

How do you respond to criticisms that you are a Stalinist, a control freak and could not manage people in a collegiate way, as claimed by people who have worked with you?

KEITH BURTON, Stourbridge

I'll take that as a job application, Keith. It's always difficult to win over everyone you work with, especially when people disagree with you on fundamental issues like joining the euro. But I'd like to think I've got on well with the vast majority of civil servants and ministers I've worked with. I'm a conviction politician though, and I'm always prepared to take tough decisions and sometimes unpopular decisions for the long-term good of the country.

What has been the biggest single mistake of the current government?

DAVID YOUNG, by email

We've made serious mistakes in the past - like the 75p pension increase - but we've generally been able to fix them down the line. The mistake we've not yet fixed is the failure to prepare properly for the aftermath of the war in Iraq, as I said earlier.

What's a bigger danger - global warming or jihadi terrorism?

TOM CHURCH, by email

Both are massive dangers, and the truth is - while every other country in the world tends to make trade-offs and choose priorities - Britain is the only country simultaneously taking the lead in fighting all the great dangers the world faces: global warming, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation and world poverty. I am proud of that, and that will continue under my government.

If you believe the Stern report, shouldn't you be taking genuinely radical action that will have real impact on how we live our lives?

ROSS WILLIAMSON, by email

Yes - and we are taking that radical action domestically to cut emissions from our homes, from industry and from transport, and by pushing for radical action at international level, including the agreements we have reached to save and restore the rainforests of central Africa.

Given the threat of global warming, was it a mistake to remove the fuel escalator just because a few lorry drivers and country types got shirty?

MALCOLM FERRY, Balham

We abolished the fuel escalator in 1999 - the fuel blockades didn't happen until the following summer. It was right to maintain the escalator as long as we did to make the price of fuel reflect the environmental costs, even though it was unpopular at the time.

As PM, will you promise to fly around the world less than your predecessor to cut your carbon footprint?

E MORRIS, by email

I've had my last few summer holidays at home in Scotland, so I've got some catching up to do. But like Tony Blair, I will offset all my air travel.

Will you ensure there is no more airport expansion in Britain?

LIZ KIMBERLEY, Truro

I don't believe that would be the right decision for our economy, but I agree we need to tackle the impact of aviation on the environment. We can do our own bit by using alternative transport and offsetting the carbon impact of our journeys, but there is also a major role for government. That is why we increased passenger duty and why we want aviation to become part of the EU emissions trading schemes.

Would you have cancelled the corruption investigation into BAE Systems?

STEPHEN KNIGHT, by email

That decision has been taken, and I'm not going to second-guess it now. But clearly I think we do need to consider whether we need a more transparent process so people can understand better why these kind of decisions are taken.

Why aren't you fighting to introduce proportional representation, which would keep the Tories out of power for a generation?

PHIL THOMAS, by email

The issue of the voting system should not be based on the grounds of keeping one party or another out of power - it should be based on what is best for democracy in this country. And I believe strongly in the idea of a representative system with a strong geographical link of the MP to their constituency.

If you could travel back in time and meet the young Gordon Brown, the student activist as he returned from leading a demonstration demanding " fair grants now", how would you explain to him that one day he would be a part of a government that would eliminate grants altogether? Do you think he would accept your reasoning?

COLIN BURKE, by email

I'm as clear now as I was when I was a student activist all those years ago that lack of financial resources should never be a barrier to someone getting to university. That is why every low-income student still receives a full grant of £2,700 and a bursary of at least £300, and no student pays up-front costs of tuition. More young people than ever before are getting access to higher education. But despite this, I know we still have more to do to ensure that a higher proportion of young people from deprived backgrounds go to university and this is something I am looking closely at.

Which Tory politicians have impressed you in your political lifetime?

MICHAEL NOBLE, by email

Firstly, I'd say - coming from the job I've done - I admire any politician who has survived as Chancellor for a decent period of time, people like Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson and Kenneth Clarke in recent times. More generally, I admire any politician of morality and principle - no matter what party they come from. Whatever you think of Ted Heath or Margaret Thatcher's politics, they had strong principles and beliefs. I still think one of the greatest speeches I ever heard in person in the Commons was Ted Heath speaking out against the re-introduction of the death penalty.

What do you think the role of deputy leader of the Labour Party should be?

HENRY LEWIS, by email

Primarily, it's someone who'll work with me to get the membership of the party more closely engaged with their local communities, and consult the members and their local communities more closely when we're making policy as a party.

Why are so many of your policies trailed in the newspapers before the Cabinet or MPs get to hear about them?

FRANK DAVIS, by email

If you think that's happened in the past, I'm sorry. But I think now we live in times when there is more external consultation on the formation of policy, and it's inevitable that there will be some kind of public discussion about policy issues before anyone stands up and makes a statement to Parliament. Frankly, I think that's a good thing. We can't have a return to a purdah system, where the Government refuses to consult anyone on the development of its policies.

Do you agree with Tony Blair's criticism of The Independent?

MICHAEL HARVEY, Lincoln

As I said at The Independent's 20th anniversary party, it is a great campaigning newspaper and it always has been. It doesn't matter whether you agree with the campaigns or not.

Which do you think is the more corrosive influence on public discourse: The Independent newspaper or the Murdoch press?

ALICE LUCKMAN, Chester

I don't think either is a corrosive influence. Both try to uphold the beliefs and values of their readers, even if they've got different views.

It must have been awful when you learned your son had cystic fibrosis. How is he, and what impact does this have on you and your family?

ANNE LAMB, Portland, Oregon

He's a lovely, strong, healthy boy, Anne, and we're lucky to have him.

What do you do to cope with stress?

LUCY MILLER, by email

I never get too stressed, which is one of the perks of doing the job as long as I have - you've seen most things before, so you take them in your stride. Hopefully that will stand me in good stead in the new job.

How did you feel when the Tories called you "autistic"?

MAUREEN SCRIVEN, by email

Personally, I don't mind what the Tories say about me, but I thought it was wrong of them to make jokes about autism. There are thousands of families in Britain who love and care for autistic children, and they do not deserve to have their condition used as a joke or a term of abuse.

Do you like David Cameron?

TONY HEALEY, by email

We've had a couple of conversations but I don't really know him.

Have you ever taken any illegal drugs?

PHIL POWELL, Hackney

No. There was never a big drug culture at my school or university.

Were you really as studious and boring as a young man as you are made out to be, or did you ever do anything really wild, as most kids do? And if you did, tell us the best escapade you can share with us?

ANDREW KELLY, New York

I had a fairly normal university life - working or playing sport during the day, sitting round with friends in the evening having a drink, and - in my case - getting involved in student journalism and student politics.

If you hadn't become a politician, what would you be doing now?

WENDY CORNISH, by email

I'd like to think I'd be the manager of Raith Rovers, or maybe the ex-manager because they'd have sacked me for not getting promotion this year.

Where would you recommend I take my girlfriend for a tasty but economical supper?

BILL HOOPER, by email

There's a great Chinese restaurant in Kirkcaldy called Maxin's.

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