Book on Brown re-opens wound over leadership

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The festering sore of jealousy between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair over the Labour leadership is to be revived by a new biography of the Chancellor. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on fresh insights into the closest relationship in British politics.

Further evidence of the continuing anger felt by the Chancellor about the way in which Mr Blair snatched the Labour leadership from him in 1994 is to be delivered in a biography of Mr Brown, due for publication shortly.

Paul Routledge, the biographer and political correspondent of The Independent on Sunday, is believed to claim in the book that Mr Brown felt that he would have won any leadership contest. But he agreed to stand aside in favour of Mr Blair because a threatened "dirty war" would have damaged the party's chances of modernisation and election victory.

At one point in the book Mr Brown is quoted as saying: "I was never part of the London scene anyway, but that in my view didn't mean much." He believed that once the campaign started amongst loyal Labour party members and MPs, he would have been certain of victory, with the backing of around 120 MPs. However, in spite of the fact that Mr Blair had for a long time agreed to leave the way open for Mr Brown's succession to the leadership, that position changed after the death of John Smith in 1994.

The book says, it is understood, that Mr Blair was persuaded to renege on the deal by a group of people including Peter Mandelson, now minister without portfolio, Alastair Campbell, now the Prime Minister's press secretary, and a number of influential journalists.

From what is emerging in the book, little of the detail about the alleged betrayal appears to be new, but the fact that Mr Brown and his friends persist in airing their grievance suggests a continuing ambition held by the Chancellor. It is believed that Mr Brown's feelings of superiority fuelled last year's astonishing spat over government plans towards the membership of the European single currency. After the Chancellor's friends had fed out and sustained reports that the Government was about to issue a statement of intent for early membership of the currency, the Prime Minister was forced to intervene, insisting on a Commons statement from the Chancellor that Britain would not join the currency before the next election.