Blair v Brown split ends in a phoney peace

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A TRUCE of sorts appears to have been reached in the vicious war of Downing Street between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The occupants of Numbers 10 and 11 met at Chequers on Friday, officially to discuss welfare reform. But sources in both camps portrayed the meeting as an attempt to defuse the potentially catastrophic split between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor that followed publication of a controversial biography of Mr Brown by Independent on Sunday political correspondent, Paul Routledge. A Brown supporter said: "It is behind them. The fact that they spent the whole day together shows how important their relationship is."

But the sniping continues. Mr Brown is understood to be unapologetic about the biography. Friends said he has "got it off his chest" and people now understand how hurtful it was to stand down from the Labour leadership campaign in 1994.

For their part, in off-the-record briefings Mr Blair's champions are trying to isolate Charlie Whelan, the Chancellor's press spokesman, claiming he often appears to speak for Mr Brown, not the Government, and that he still behaves as though in opposition. They regard co-operation with the biography as ill-advised and profess to have lost patience with the press spokesman.

Suggestions are being made that Mr Whelan may be excluded from regular No 10 media strategy meetings. Each morning Mr Whelan, Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, Peter Mandelson, the Minister Without Portfolio, and other senior officials meet to review the press and plan the day. Mr Brown would be infuriated if his spokesman were excluded, but such is the level of hostility towards Mr Whelan from No 10 that it remains a possibility.

Meanwhile, Mr Brown's camp is accusing Mr Campbell of being the source behind the slur that the Chancellor was "psychologically flawed". Mr Campbell denies it, but his rebuttal is not categorical enough to satisfy the Brown side. Mr Campbell said yesterday: "I spent much of last Saturday trying to stop such stories being written, given that the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor is excellent."

Mr Mandelson has categorically denied that he had anything to do with last weekend's denigration of the Chancellor.

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