Apologies if posted elsewhere.
... nice to see the labourati getting on so well together?Sunday Times said:February 25, 2007
Beckett duped by âChancellorâ Rory Bremner
Richard Brooks, Arts Editor
Click here to read transcript
THE impressionist Rory Bremner fooled Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, into thinking he was Gordon Brown in a spoof call that led her to make embarrassing comments about senior colleagues.
In a taped conversation lasting more than four minutes, Beckett seemed to be taken in by Bremnerâs mimicry and discussed with âBrownâ details of a forthcoming cabinet reshuffle.
The tape, heard by The Sunday Times, was made in 2005 but, for legal reasons, has never been aired. In the conversation Beckett said or implied that:
The empire of John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, was ineffective and should be broken up;
Patricia Hewitt, then trade and industry secretary, was âout of her depthâ; Alan Milburn couldnât âhack itâ as party chairman; Stephen Byers, the former minister, was a âbit of a riskâ.
Vera, the production company that makes Bremnerâs television programmes, has kept the tape locked in a safe in its office since it was recorded.
Yesterday Bremner admitted he had made the call and said: âIâd really love to broadcast it.â
It was the day before the 2005 election when he picked up the phone, put on his best Brown voice and called Beckett. As one of Labourâs longest-serving cabinet ministers, she knew the chancellor, his voice and vocal tics well; but she appeared to have no idea the man on the end of the line was not him.
The conversation begins with Bremner saying: âHi, Margaret? Hi, itâs Gordon.â
Beckett, then secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, replies: âAll right Gordon, what can I do for you?â
âBrownâ softens her up with some general talk about how election canvassing is going.
He then asks Beckett if she had âspoken to Tony about next weekâ.
He makes it clear that he is talking about Blairâs cabinet reshuffle after the expected election victory: âHeâs going to get Alan [Milburn] back in and Stephen [Byers], and I donât know how you feel about that.â
Both Milburn and Byers are Blairites and Beckettâs response to âBrownâ displays a politicianâs talent for toadying and back-stabbing at the same time.
She replies: âBeing perfectly honest, Gordon, and I wouldnât say this to anyone else, I mean I think Stephenâs a bit of a risk at the moment . . .â
Later she says of Milburn, who had been made chairman of the party and put in charge of the election campaign: âI havenât really felt heâs hacked it as chairman. I donât know what you feel, but I felt . . . I think it just didnât work.â It is clear that Beckett believed that the chancellor, even two years ago, had a powerful say in choosing the cabinet. As the taped conversation progresses, she talks herself up in the hope of staying in her current ministerial job.
âI would be happy to stay where I am, not least because, I mean, we are right in the middle of the sugar negotiations, which everybody is expecting me to chair . . .â she says. âThereâs a huge amount coming up in the next six months or so, which, you know, as I say, all the rest of Europe is sort of confidently looking and saying literally, you know, weâre leaving that to Margaret.â
Last year Beckett, to the surprise of many, was made foreign secretary; she is reputed to have responded to the news with the words âOh f***â.
On the tape âBrownâ then asks Beckett where she thinks there are weaknesses in the cabinet. âWell, Iâm just mentally running over in my mind,â she replies. âI donât know where heâs [Blair] going to put David [Blun-kett, who had lost his post as home secretary five months ear-lier]. I mean, a lot depends on how much John [Prescott] wants to hang on to.â
Beckett gently slides the knife into Prescott, whose sprawling department â grandly entitled office of the deputy prime minister â was largely seen as ineffectual. Beckett continues: âI mean you could create something useful without taking everything away from John. You could do something a bit different with that as a portfolio.â
For good measure she has a dig at another colleague, adding: âYou know, DTI [Department for Trade and Industry] is always, well . . . No disrespect to Patricia [Hewitt], but DTI is always a bit of a handful.â
âBrownâ then interjects: âI think sheâs a bit out of her depth there actually.â Beckett responds: âYeah. Thatâs what a lot of other people say to me.â
They then move on to discuss Charles Clarke, then home secretary. Beckett says that she assumes âthe two of you [Blair and Brown] will want to leave him where he is. If you move him it would look like very much of a repudiation.â Clarke had been in the post only a few months.
When the conversation draws to a close, âBrownâ says: âOkay, okay, Iâm going to have to go, if you want to call me Iâll be in North Queensferry tonight.â
Beckett replies: âWell if you want me, you know where I am. Nice to talk to you, Gordon.â
The duping of a cabinet minister and disclosure of the tape are likely to add to tensions between the government and Channel 4, which is under review by Ofcom, the regulator.
In a statement last night Beckett said: âI have never given my phone number to Rory Bremner, nor knowingly had such a conversation with him.
âI have no recollection of a conversation in the terms that are being suggested. If he has done as he suggests, it is both an unprincipled and unpleasant breach of privacy.â
Bremner admitted he had also impersonated Brown while phoning Peter Hain, now Northern Ire-land secretary. âBut Iâm pretty sure he worked out very quickly that something was up,â said Bremner, whose latest series begins next Saturday on C4. âSo I put the phone down.â
When John Major was prime minister in the mid1990s, Bremner also tried to dupe three Tory MPs. Michael Grade, then chief executive of C4, got to hear about it and the recordings were never aired.
Bremner defended phoning Beckett. âIt was a case of what I like to call âextreme researchâ,â he said. Geoff Atkinson, who produces Bremner, Bird and Fortune, said: âIt was Rory road-testing Gordon.â Bremnerâs new series could see the last time that he impersonates Blair. âWe seem to have entered an era of grim, machine-like politicians such as [pensions minister] John Hutton,â he said.
And what of David Cameron, the Tory leader?
âHeâs Blair, but with Peter Man-delsonâs accent,â said Bremner.
Great hoaxes of our time
In the 1996 series Brass Eye, Chris Morris, the satirist, conned David Amess, the Tory MP, into asking in parliament about a fictional drug called âcakeâ
Victor Lewis-Smith, a journalist, spoke to Diana, Princess of Wales for half an hour in 1996, using a computerised voice to give the impression that he was Professor Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge physicist
In 1998, Tony Blair rumbled Jon Culshaw, an impressionist who phoned Downing Street pretending to be William Hague, but addressed Blair as âTonyâ. Hague always used the formal âprime ministerâ