British PM Brown was 'hellish': finance minister

4th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown ran a "brutal regime" that back-stabbed colleagues in "hellish" attacks, his finance minister Alistair Darling said as he blew the lid on Brown's premiership.

In extracts from his memoirs, serialised in The Sunday Times newspaper, Darling said Brown ruled with a "permanent air of chaos and crisis" and serially undermined him by thwarting his budget plans and unleashing "attack dogs".

In "Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11", Darling describes his time at the Treasury throughout Brown's premiership from June 2007 to May 2010, chronicling the economic crisis.

Darling said he was "clearly a stopgap appointment" before appointing Ed Balls, a Brown protege now Labour's finance spokesman. But when Brown tried to oust him in May 2009, the chancellor refused to be "trashed and sacrificed".

Just before the banking crash in 2008, Brown was convinced the economic downturn would only last six months and was furious with Darling for accurately describing the outlook as the worst for 60 years.

"Those were dark days," Darling said.

"If I had known that Gordon believed that economic recovery lay around the corner -- if he'd told me, his chancellor, this -- then we could have had a discussion about it.

"The problem was that clearly he did not trust my advice, and now he appeared indifferent to what I thought."

Blaming "Gordon's attack dogs" for then trashing him in briefings to the press, Darling described it "as like 'the forces of hell' being unleashed on me. That's what it felt like."

When Darling confronted Brown and told him it had to stop, the premier denied responsibility and said it was "nothing to do with him".

Darling told The Sunday Times that the episode "was hellish... very personal. It left a scar on me... you just can't get over it".

His book exposed how his attempts to draw up credible budgets were thwarted by Brown.

He described relentless pressure to produce more optimistic growth forecasts and futile attempts to persuade Brown to accept public spending cuts.

Preparation of the 2009 budget was "tortuous", he said, with meetings cancelled at short notice.

"Forty-eight hours before its presentation, we had no budget... we were rewriting it literally until the last minute."

Therefore the 2009 pre-budget report, prepared with the 2010 election in mind, "simply lacked credibility".

A month later, Darling met with then-foreign secretary David Miliband to "discuss whether there was any way of getting rid of Gordon", but concluded that Brown would not leave and there was no alternative leader in prospect.

The premier was surrounded by a "Brownite cabal... a fairly brutal regime, and many of us fell foul of it".

Brown's predecessor Tony Blair once told Darling that dealing with him was "like facing the dentist's drill without an anaesthetic. He goes on and on."

Brown "has many strengths, but he is not an easy man to work with", Darling wrote.

"He seemed to have no conception of the effects of his sometimes appalling behaviour on those close to him, or of the political damage his way of operating -- indirectly, through a cabal -- could cause."

Brown declined to comment Thursday when asked about Darling's forthcoming memoirs.

© 2011 AFP

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