This is the latest extract from Gordon Brown’s memoir, My Life, Our Times, which is published on Tuesday.
Brown quotes extracts from the diary kept by his brother, Andrew, including an account of the then shadow chancellor’s decision to drop out of the Labour leadership race in 1994, triggered by the death of John Smith, and to back Tony Blair.
Andrew Brown’s diary entries for Tuesday, May 17, 1994 states: “It had been years since I had chatted to him [Blair] for more than passing pleasantries. But immediately we talked at ease. With a pinch of salt, I hear his eulogy to GB. ‘He’s the ‘greatest political mind the Labour Party has had’, he says – and TB ‘couldn’t do it without GB’.”
Gordon Brown described their discussion on May 17th (two weeks before the Granita meeting):
Tony had reiterated that he had wanted me to stay on as shadow chancellor and would give me control over economic and social policy. This time, he added another promise – that if elected as prime minister, he would stand down in his second term.
He said this was a family choice that he had already made. He wanted to be free from day-to-day politics to be with his children in their teens – the time of life when parents are most needed. It was a promise he repeated on several occasions.
When Andrew drove Tony back to the airport after our meeting, he wrote that Tony was “much more tense than earlier”. He was talking to Andrew in the full knowledge that his offers, which he had already made to me personally, would be reinforced through repeating them to Andrew. Andrew’s diary for Tuesday, May 17, 1994 continued:
“He showed the desperation of his position when he reveals that GB could win if he stood. What he doubted was not that – but whether GB could win the general election. It’s the trump card to play –especially against GB who believes above all else that, after four defeats, nothing should come in the way of Labour winning the election.
“TB also talks about how all of this has come ‘too soon’ for his young children. Only aged 10, 8 and 6 years old, he’s worried about the prospect of media attention on them. Talks about how if he goes for the leadership now, he would want to spend time with them later before they’re too old – perhaps in five years’ time.”
This accorded with what Tony was telling me directly: that he would stand down in his second term.
Brown says that his mind was already made up days before they met at Granita.
I would accept his assurances. He would give me control of economic and social policy and would stand down during a second term. Unwilling to see the party divided in a way that would endanger the prospects for reform, in the days leading up to May 30 I informed those closest to me of my intention not to stand.
The rest was a formality. On May 31, I sat down again with Tony near his home in London, at a restaurant called Granita. Ed Balls travelled with me to the restaurant and after a few minutes he left. I always smile when commentators write that we hammered out a deal in the restaurant. The Granita discussion merely confirmed what he had already offered and I had already agreed.
The only new point was Tony’s overture that he wanted to show that, unlike the Tories under Mrs Thatcher, Labour was not a one-person band but a partnership. As we walked out of the restaurant towards his home, he emphasised the word ‘partnership’ again and again, telling me it represented a new departure for British politics.
Brown recalls how the partnership got off to a difficult start.
On Wednesday June 1, I travelled to Nottingham with Ed Balls to honour a European campaign commitment. I had penned a withdrawal statement that I sent in draft to Tony. At the same time, our usual ‘lines to take’ for any press enquiries were being hammered out – amended and re-amended in a process involving Tony, Sue Nye and Peter Mandelson as well as me. They were there to reflect what we could explain publicly by way of background information when questions were asked by the press.
This draft contained Tony’s guarantees about my control of economic and social policy. It was of course the part of the agreement we could allude to in public. The other part – that he would stand down in a second term – was an explicit but private understanding between ourselves and would of course not be referred to in public. I made the formal announcement to the Press Association at 3.30pm.
Originally, we planned to be photographed in public to affirm the strong partnership Tony had talked of. The plan was to walk between Westminster and Lambeth. But immediately after I published my statement, Tony’s team changed tack.
Andrew’s diary for Wednesday, June 1 states: “The whole episode was nearly a disaster. Tony had agreed to a photo-call immediately after the statement was issued . . . But Tony’s aides took cold feet. After GB had issued his press release withdrawing, TB threatened to break his agreement and not take part in a photo-call. His advisers were suggesting that – even with no interviews by either TB or GB – he would be in danger of breaking shadow Cabinet rules on not making any pronouncements on the leadership question until after the European campaign. I suspected even worse than that. Without the photo-call – particularly in TV terms – GB would have looked like a loser – and it would have been interpreted that way. After at least five phone calls between the two offices, Tony eventually succumbed to a photo-call which took place much later than planned – at about 4.45. The pictures themselves showed Tony looking very uncomfortable – and hardly acknowledging GB.”
When I offered to chair Tony’s leadership campaign, he demurred. And while I helped write his leadership speeches, I was frozen out of the campaign. Long into the future, the focus of the 1994 leadership race would wrongly remain on what was said at Granita.
The restaurant did not survive and ultimately neither did our agreement.
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