Bob Ainsworth: The trouble with Gordon Brown
After biting his lip for a year, former Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth talks to Paul Dale about his difficult relationship with Gordon Brown.
Bob Ainsworth has joined a long line of senior Labour figures to openly criticise Gordon Brown, describing the “impossible” relationship he faced as Defence Secretary when attempting to work with the Prime Minister.
Coventry North East MP Ainsworth, who spent the 11 months up to the General Election in the cabinet, was rarely able to secure one-to-one meetings with Mr Brown and when the two did get together Ainsworth says his views on defence policy were generally ignored, he has revealed.
“It’s no secret that Gordon and I are not each other’s greatest fans,” he explained. “I found him very difficult to work with. Impossible really.”
The greatest strain in the relationship occurred in October last year when an official inquiry was published into the death of 14 servicemen who were killed when an RAF Nimrod surveillance aircraft burst into flames over Afghanistan.
The report, by Charles Haddon-Cave QC, exposed catastrophic design faults in the Nimrod MR2 which were not put right as a result of cost-cutting and “complacency”.
Ainsworth revealed that Gordon Brown’s office made it clear the entire Nimrod fleet should be grounded, even though repairs to faulty hot-air ducts and fuel pipes on the remaining aircraft had taken place.
Ainsworth took the view that the aircraft were, therefore, safe to fly and he strongly suspected Brown’s office of wanting headlines promoting the Government as taking tough, decisive action to safeguard members of the armed forces in an attempt to deflate the highly damaging content of Haddon-Cave’s report.
In fact, according to Ainsworth, there was no need at all to stop the Nimrods from flying.
In the end, the Defence Secretary faced down Brown and got his own way.
Mr Ainsworth recalled: “He wanted me to ground the fleet, I said if you give me a written order I will do so but not unless.”
The Nimrods flew on until March this year, when they were withdrawn by Ainsworth as part of a cost-cutting package.
Addressing his relationship with Brown directly, Mr Ainsworth said: “I don’t suppose I am the easiest person to work with, but I am a party loyalist. I’m a team player and not a maverick.”
Even as Defence Secretary, Ainsworth found it extremely difficult to speak directly to the Prime Minister. And when the two did meet, the sense of frustration at running up against a brick wall was palpable.