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Gordon Brown by Francis Beckett


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What sort of a man is Gordon Brown? What kind of Prime Minister will he make? Can he stem the growing unpopularity of the Labour Party and win it a fourth term in office? This book, written in the first three months of the year in which Brown becomes Prime Minister, is both a biography and an assessment. Francis Beckett interviewed several of Brown's closest political collaborators, and had a background briefing from Brown himself. He says the popular image of Brown is entirely wrong: he found an amusing, erudite and charming man who will bring his own style to 10 Downing Street - not Tony Blair's style, but at least as stylish. He believes that a Brown premiership will mark a fundamental break with the Blair years: a new and different relationship with the USA, a broader foreign policy which is able to look beyond the Middle East, a new and more transparent way of reaching decisions. In a groundbreaking final chapter, he draws on the best evidence available to predict what Gordon Brown will do with his new job.

Francis Beckett has agreed to discuss his book "Gordon Brown: Past, Present and Future"

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Questions:

1. Whereas there is little evidence that Tony Blair held socialist beliefs, the same cannot be said of Gordon Brown. Do you think there is anything left of Brown’s socialist views that he held as a student and in his early years as an MP?

2. I found your section on Gordon Brown’s first published book fascinating. Especially the point that you make on page 45 that Brown never mentions the fact that his father was a member of the Jimmy Maxton circle. What political lesson do you think Gordon Brown learnt from writing this book on Maxton?

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1. Whereas there is little evidence that Tony Blair held socialist beliefs, the same cannot be said of Gordon Brown. Do you think there is anything left of Brown’s socialist views that he held as a student and in his early years as an MP?

Yes, there is something left, but it is hard to say how much. I noticed the other day that, speaking on education, he praised his own Kirkcaldy school and the pressurized fast-tracking that wernt on there, which resulted in him going to university two years early. At the time he hated it, thought it caused untold human misery, and it turned him against selection in schools.

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I found your section on Gordon Brown’s first published book fascinating. Especially the point that you make on page 45 that Brown never mentions the fact that his father was a member of the Jimmy Maxton circle. What political lesson do you think Gordon Brown learnt from writing this book on Maxton?

He admired Maxton but never wanted to be like him. Maxton never budged on his ideals. Brown considers himself a practical politician. It’s clear from the book he wrote that the lesson he learned was: if you insist on demanding everything, you will achieve nothing.

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1. Whereas there is little evidence that Tony Blair held socialist beliefs, the same cannot be said of Gordon Brown. Do you think there is anything left of Brown’s socialist views that he held as a student and in his early years as an MP?

Yes, there is something left, but it is hard to say how much. I noticed the other day that, speaking on education, he praised his own Kirkcaldy school and the pressurized fast-tracking that wernt on there, which resulted in him going to university two years early. At the time he hated it, thought it caused untold human misery, and it turned him against selection in schools.

It is fairly safe to say that our experiences as children influence our political views. Blair’s privileged childhood made him into the Tory that he became in later life.

On page 12 you state that Brown’s friends claim that he opposes selection in education and unlike Blair supports the non-selective comprehensive system introduced by the Wilson government. However, since becoming prime minister, his comments on education have been appalling. He seems to have no idea that the reasons schools do badly in league tables is because of student intake. With his threats to close down these schools suggests that the problem is being caused by poor teaching. The idea that these schools can be rescued by putting them under the control of independent schools is a joke.

For many years I lived and taught in Brighton. On the outskirts of Brighton is the Whitehawk estate. It falls into the 5% of England's most deprived neighbourhoods. The Stanley Deason School (named after a former leader of the Labour Pary in the area) served the community. 43% of children were eligible for free school meals, almost four times the national average.

When league tables were introduced it was discovered that Whitehawk did not have a good academic record. Those parents who took notice of such things, quickly moved their children to the middle-class areas of the town. This meant that most of those children with supportive parents left the school. As a result, the exam results of Stanley Deason got even worse.

It was decided that the academic reputation of Stanley Deason was so bad that it should change its name to Marina High. In other words, it was named after the nearby marina where millionaire businessmen keep their expensive boats. You could not have a greater contrast with the lives of the people who lived on the Whitehawk estate. A so-called “superhead", Tony Garwood, was appointed to run the school.

This idea of course did not work and the school remained in “Special Measures”. The exodus of the students continued. Much to the dismay of local heads as they saw their own exam results go into decline as a result of their new intake.

After two years it was decided to change the school’s name again. In 1999 it became known as East Brighton College of Media Arts (Comart). It was decided that the best way of persuading local parents to send their children to the school was by spending a lot of money on the buildings. Therefore, a deal was done with Jarvis, the Private Finance Initiative company. Jarvis was given a 25-year contract to maintain the school. A new head, Dr. Jill Clough, was brought in from the independent sector (she had been head of Wimbledon High School).

Of course this did not work either and in August 2005 the school on Whitehawk closed down. All the children on the estate are now bussed all over Brighton, creating all sorts of transport and environmental problems.

Unlike Tony Brown or Gordon Brown, Dr. Clough did not blame the teachers. She rated her staff as “amongst she best she had seen”. The problem was with the catchment area.

The LEA is also left with a £17m contract penalty with Jarvis. A deal was eventually done and £4.5m was paid by the local council to release it from the PFI contract. The council does not have the money so has had to borrow it to pay off its debt.

This disaster is a classic example of the failings of New Labour’s education policy. Is there any evidence that Gordon Brown has learnt anything from these mistakes or are we going to get more of the same?

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