Just for Brown (picture: Hannah Roberts)
Eric Pickles would like to throw his mobile phone at Gordon Brown
“A Blackberry would be the perfect parting gift for our dear Prime Minister.
The Conservative Party chairman was speaking at a panel event near Westminster on Thursday evening.
Responding to an audience question about the potential recipients of flying office stationary Pickles added: “In my own office I have a yellow rubber banana in tribute to Mr Miliband.”
Also on the panel at the Total Politics Question Time event were Harrow East Labour MP Tony McNulty and Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake. The politicians were joined by the Independent’s chief political commentator, Steve Richards, and Tory commentator Iain Dale as the chair.
Dominating discussion was the subject of bullying in Downing Street, following the allegations made in journalist Andrew Rawnsley’s new book.
Pickles said it was ‘worrying’ that “because [Darling] says the bleeding obvious then the forces of hell are released on him.”
“I can’t imagine Andrew Rawnsley has made those things up,” added the MP for Brentwood and Ongar.
“We’ve all seen documentaries on neighbours from hell but never imagined it would be in Ten Downing Street.”
Pickles said the test for a good boss was somebody who would help you out of a mess and who you could take bad news to.
“I don’t think I’d like to see Gordon Brown with bad news,” he said.
But McNulty, ever the loyal Labour man, dismissed the concerns, saying that when he had worked closely with Brown over he 42 days detention issue, Brown had not raised his voice at him.
Men in black: (from left) Brake, Pickles, Dale and McNulty
“I raised my voice, but that’s another story for Andrew Rawnsley’s next book!”
“People lose their temper in high octane situations – shock horror,” he said. “I’m sure it will be a very nice book but I don’t believe that it is gospel.”
“You can’t have a convivial relationship between a prime minister and a chancellor all the time.”
Meanwhile Brake admitted we had not learnt anything ‘in relation to what goes on behind closed doors’ but said he could not imagine Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg throwing anything at his staff.
Richards said Rawnsley was a genius ‘for telling us something we already know’ although he hypothesised that some of the stories had been ‘embroidered’.
“I would also say, so what?” he admitted.
“I tried to get worked up and excited and I really can’t. These things are always more complicated than we see when they are written about.”
In fact, Richards said a calm leader was the exception and not the rule.
Citing examples of Wilson and Thatcher’s staff finding them difficult to work with, he added: “For Major they had to hide the Evening Standard from him.”
Richards said Tony Blair was unusual for his calmness in difficult situations.
“Blair is an aberration, during crises he was extraordinarily calm.”
Recalling that when Blair sacked Blunkett for the second time he had been scheduled to meet the then prime minister for coffee, Richards said he had been surprised the meeting had not been cancelled.
“I was waiting for him to cancel but there was no cancellation,” he said. ” He had sacked a close friend for the second time and he says ‘hi, how are you, great to see you’ and spoke for an hour about public service reform.
“There was this total meltdown but he was absolutely fine, and that was weird,” said Richards.
“There’s an authenticity about Brown’s weirdness.”
The panel also discussed all-women shortlists for parliamentary seats, accountability and predictions for the next election, with some time reserved to discuss the future of Peter Mandelson.
For Brake, it was ‘anyones guess’ what the oft-referred to Prince of Darkness would do next.
“He can turn his hand to anything,” he said.
Richards said it would not be the last of him even if Labour were to lose the election. “He sees his role to try to keep the whole show on the road,” said Richards.
“He’s utterly tribal and will be heavily involved in choosing Gordon Browns successor if Labour were to lose.”
For Pickles, the answer was obvious.
“I think he will be a chat show host.”