Gordon Brown: The TIME Interview

The front-runner to replace Tony Blair spoke with TIME about the job and working with President Bush

  • Richard Pohle / Atlaspress

    British Chancellor Gordon Brown is applauded by Prime Minister Tony Blair while acknowledging the audience following his speech to the Labour party conference in Manchester in 2006.

    (2 of 2)

    TIME: What was your impression of Bush himself? Is this a man you can do business with?

    GB: President Bush is the elected leader of the American people. I was pleased to have a chance to talk to him. It was on an informal basis and obviously we discussed some issues, but obviously just some issues in the short time that we had available to us. But I was pleased to have the chance to talk to him and, of course, I have over the years worked with different Administrations in America — with Robert Rubin and Larry Summers as Treasury Secretaries, with Paul O'Neill and John Snow and now Hank Paulson — and I think with both parties in America relationships are strong.

    TIME: Can we expect to see a difference in Britain's approach to Iraq now? And would you have done anything differently?

    GB: I take responsibility, as does the whole of the cabinet, for decisions we made on Iraq. There will be no sense in which we seek to walk away from decisions we made. We made the decisions because we believed the collective security of the world required resolutions passed by the United Nations over 10 years to be upheld. And, of course, there are lessons that we've got to learn.

    TIME: There's a feeling Britain could have worked more closely with Europe on Iraq. But you're seen as more than a touch Euroskeptic.

    GB: I'm a great supporter of the European Union. I didn't support entry to the Euro, not because I'm against it in principle but because I didn't think it was economically right for Britain. But that doesn't make me any less pro-European.

    Economically, Europe has a big role to play in the world. I actually believe that the contribution of the European Union to the peace of Europe has often been underestimated. I think the ability of Europe to bring in the countries of Eastern Europe into the European Union is something that will reap great rewards in the future. I'd like to see Europe and America coming together to make the Doha trade talks work. I'm pressing for Europe and America to make proposals that would allow Brazil, India, the developing countries to come behind a trade deal that I believe we could agree on by the summer. That would be a practical example of how Europe and America, despite all the difficulties of the last few years, could come together to make sure the world is actually not just a more economically prosperous place but a fairer place.

    TIME: In which globalization is an opportunity rather than a threat.

    GB: We need a global manifesto, a new agenda for globalization that the advanced industrial nations can share with the poorer countries. The trade talks illustrate a bigger issue. You've got to put the case for globalization in the sense that with open markets and flexibility and free trade you give people the chance to benefit from a global economy, but you've also got to show — and this is where sometimes the debate has fallen down — that you will help people get the skills and education and infrastructure to benefit from globalization. Globalization can be a force for justice on a global scale or it can be seen as the benefit going to a small section of the community at the expense of the rest.

    TIME: Can Britain stand up to the challenges of this increasingly globalized economy?

    GB: Britain can and will be one of the great global success stories of the 21st century. The reason is that the advantages and assets a country needs to be successful in a modern global economy are these: you've got to be open, and we're probably the most open economy in the world. We pioneered free trade in the 19th century. We believe in it still in the 21st century. And we are internationalist. Our global reach is to every continent. We also understand the importance of science and technology. We've doubled our science budget because we want to be at the cutting edge of new scientific advance where the value added that can be produced from science, innovation and technology is absolutely crucial to any advanced industrial economy in a period when a lot of low-cost manufacturing is going to be based in Asia, for example.

    Our economy has moved very significantly over the last few years so that perhaps 8 percent of our economy is the range of creative industries from design, architecture right across to media, information technology. We're in many areas the leading center for financial services. In the range of industries and services which are absolutely crucial to the success of advanced industrial economies in the future, Britain is doing well. Our big issue is making ourselves world-class in education. If China and India are turning out 4 million graduates a year and we're turning out 400,000, it's pretty clear to me that we've got to use the talents of every young person a lot better. A small country must be able to mobilize its talents more effectively.

    TIME: What drives you as a politician?

    GB: The essential values which make most people want to be involved in changing things or improving things are your belief that everybody has got a talent and everybody should have a chance to develop that talent. That's what makes you tick and what makes you want to do things.

    TIME: Yet there's a widespread lack of political engagement.

    GB: Yes, although two years ago we had Make Poverty History in the United Kingdom and millions of people who previously had never been involved in public campaigns, particularly young people, were involved in that. You can see in the environmental campaigns people playing a part where previously they'd not been involved. It's a narrow definition of politics that suggests that people who are not interested are totally cynical. When we had the tsunami it's effect in Britain was that millions of people were prepared to give donations or offer help to Asia. Politics has got to find better ways of engaging people.

    TIME: Is it a very different job being Prime Minister to running the Treasury?

    GB: It's a very different job. Someone said politics is the only job for which no training is thought necessary. However I do think that the experience I've gained over the last 10 years can be of great help. I'm here today in Brussels because there are two big things that can be achieved in the next few years. We can be the first generation in history where every child has a chance of education. And we have the chance over the next few years to eradicate some of the most deadly diseases of the world: tuberculosis, polio, diptheria, malaria. What we need is the political will to do so. If our generation can say in the '60s they put a man on the moon, and in 2007 we made sure that every child on earth had the chance of education and every one of those diseases that are avoidable we managed to eradicate them, that would be a great tribute to the concern and the moral sense of this generation.

    TIME: That sounds like a sense of destiny. Do you think Tony Blair has realized his?

    GB: When people are critical of Tony Blair they forget where Britain was in 1997 and they forget we were a stop-go economy, we had very high unemployment and we've created two and a half million jobs. We had public services that people thought were incapable of reform, that were neglected and underinvested, and we've doubled the investment as a result of economic growth. They forget also that he's brought peace to Northern Ireland, that we've led the world in debt relief, in tackling HIV/AIDS and poverty in the poorest countries and, at the same time, while he didn't go out to achieve this, we've been at the forefront of helping international endeavors in a whole range of different continents.

    TIME: As Prime Minister, will you be calling Tony Blair for advice?

    GB: I hope we'll remain friends for a very long time. We first met about 25 years ago. We shared an office for quite a long time. We talked through all the issues that were relevant to the creation of New Labour. Every political relationship undergoes ups and downs but there's no time in modern British history where you've had the same Chancellor and the same Prime Minister for 10 years. And so it's been quite a unique political partnership and I will always feel honored to have served under his leadership.

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. Next Page