Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Rishi Sunak’s friendship with Gordon Brown revealed: How the Tories went to New Labor for help

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News of multiple talks between the two ex-Chancellors comes in the week that the Prime Minister has drafted the former Labor Health Secretary and Tony Blair’s aide as an adviser

Rishi Sunak’s government mission is repairing the problems left by previous Conservative leaders – and after a relatively peaceful start for the prime minister, this week proved to be a baptism of fire.

What was supposed to be a fairly routine G20 summit in Bali earlier in the week erupted into drama as Russia’s war on Ukraine spilled over into Poland – and Mr Sunak flew back into what his own chancellor called an economic “storm”. , with tens of billions of pounds in tax cuts and spending increases imposed on the country.

The fact that the biggest rows to date have been over the behavior of ministers – with Suella Braverman, Sir Gavin Williamson and Dominic Raab all taking the spotlight – has been a relief to the Prime Minister’s allies, who are anticipating further rows over the policy had set. “A sensible, mature government has returned,” said a minister I.

However, Mr Sunak could not escape the ghosts of PM’s past as its Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, issued a somber autumn statement on Thursday.

Boris Johnson was spotted in the House of Commons and later peered through Government car windows while trying to find his security detail, now heavily discounted after leaving No10, while Liz Truss, whose disastrous mini-budget contributed to the economic chaos , walked smiling through Parliament.

Some conservatives may have pined for the couple’s more blatant red-meat conservatism following a statement that has been described as “combining the rhetoric of George Osborne and the politics of Gordon Brown”.

If traditional Tories were perhaps surprised by the verdict, the Prime Minister’s description was perhaps less surprising.

Ican reveal that as chancellor, Mr Sunak regularly telephoned former residents of the Treasury for advice on how to handle difficult situations, and struck up an unlikely friendship with Gordon Brown during frequent discussions about the best approach to economic diplomacy and conduct union together.

And the subject was anything but superficial. They are understood to have been debating how best to handle the very technical issue of Special Drawing Rights – a mechanism used by the International Monetary Fund to top up countries’ foreign exchange reserves. They were used after the 2008 financial crisis and in the Covid pandemic. In this area, Mr. Sunak was able to draw on Mr. Brown’s experience in international economic institutions.

The unlikely couple also discussed how to avoid economic policy driving England and Scotland further apart after most tax and spending policies have been transferred.

The news could alarm some Conservatives already concerned about a creeping New Labor Party influence over the Sunak regime, with Blairist former Cabinet Secretary Patricia Hewitt brought in to advise the Government on making the NHS more efficient, and former Tony Blair adviser Sir Michael Barber on skills.

A senior Tory MP suggested the Autumn Declaration was simply a continuation of the great style of government governance seen “over the last 20 years”.

Elsewhere, the government has dismissed Tory concerns that not enough is being done to prevent the downturn from wreaking havoc on the party. A Treasury source insisted that “recessions don’t respect election cycles”.

And they dismissed suggestions that Mr Hunt might have set a political trap for a new Labor government – which would be a very Brownist move – by insisting that spending cuts be postponed to ward off criticism of his plan.

“The policy is interesting, but it’s all about making the recession shorter and shallower and adopting the ‘you’re going to make the recession worse’ argument,” the source said.

The key statement came after a four-week whirlwind in No. 10 for Mr. Sunak.

He had to hit the ground running when he became Prime Minister after a Conservative leadership contest that lasted just 72 hours. He acknowledged this week that his sudden promotion – having spent Ms Truss’ brief era as a mere backbencher – had caused upheaval in his family life, with his wife and two young daughters all moving back to Downing Street without notice.

“We moved back into the apartment we used to live in, the ‘smaller’ apartment,” he said of his trip to the G20. “We used to live there, so in a way it’s quite familiar to the family, so that part was easier than it would otherwise have been.

“But it happened quite suddenly so it was a bit of a shift for everyone and I’ve been working pretty hard day and night for the past few weeks because there’s a lot to do, I’ve had a lot of these trips so I haven’t really had time to pause and to think.”

Mr Sunak has put pressure on his team, something that some veterans of previous administrations – particularly that of Mr Johnson, whose work ethic has not always been consistent – felt unfamiliar with. “He’s intense,” said an aide. “You have to be well informed.”

Before meeting foreign leaders in Indonesia, the prime minister would ask for the names of their children in order to establish a relationship.

After two years as Chancellor, Sunak is happiest with the leaders he knows from the circle of international finance ministers – such as the current German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, both of whom were present in Bali.

But he’s quick to make new friends, most notably Emmanuel Macron, who shares his relative youth and banking background. He is said to believe that without the burgeoning personal relationship between the two, the UK and France would not have reached an agreement to reduce small boat crossings of the Channel because the Westminster chaos of the summer and autumn had so poisoned France’s view of British credibility.

Joe Biden has also welcomed Mr Sunak’s arrival at No. 10 after Ms Truss and Mr Johnson’s tenure. The American president is one of several foreign leaders who seem to think the polished prime minister will automatically be an upgrade over his predecessors, despite knowing little about him. “The US seems to think he’s going to be a lot friendlier, but that’s not really based on much,” a Whitehall source said. “They don’t seem to realize that he’s really on the far right.”

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