Labour conference: Rift? What rift? Brown and Blair put on a show of brotherly love

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The Independent Online
THE SMOULDERING feud between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair over the leadership was put to rest yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a public declaration that he is not after the Prime Minister's job.

In his speech, Mr Brown rejected calls by John Edmonds, the GMB leader, and Rodney Bickerstaffe, the Unison leader, for public-sector workers to be awarded inflation-busting pay rises, and said there was no alternative to his economic policies.

But the Chancellor's friends said the key message to Mr Blair in Mr Brown's conference speech was a more personal one - as long as Tony Blair is Prime Minister, I am happy as Chancellor. I'm not after his job. There was speculation among ministers that Mr Brown and Mr Blair had agreed the rapprochement over private talks to put an end to the corrosive reports of the bitterness that the Chancellor nursed over being outmanoeuvred for the Labour Party leadership by Mr Blair and Peter Mandelson.

Mr Brown has not abandoned his ambitions to replace Mr Blair when the Prime Minister steps down, and Mr Blair's aides confessed to being puzzled by the Chancellor's decision to draw attention to their alleged rift by his "kiss and make up" routine. "We don't know what he's up to," said one Blair aide.

It was sealed in a carefully choreographed photo-opportunity on the conference platform between Mr Blair and Mr Brown. Mr Blair went across to his Chancellor and patted Mr Brown on the back after the Chancellor poured praise on Mr Blair for his long-term vision for the party, and spoke of their closeness since sharing a small office when they entered Parliament 15 years ago. The Chancellor praised Mr Blair for rewriting Clause IV of the party constitution to replace state ownership with a commitment to ensuring wealth, power and opportunity were in the hands of the many, not the few.

Mr Brown declared: "These goals are what I know. I am here to play a part in achieving them. These are my political ambitions, not the ambitions of office, but in the office I hold, to help fulfil our shared ambitions for our country."

Ministerial colleagues said last night that Mr Brown had been "pained" by the reshuffle in July in which Mr Blair moved Mr Brown's ally, Nick Brown, from the Chief Whip's office to the relative obscurity of the Agriculture Ministry.

He stopped Mr Blair from sacking his Treasury minister, Geoffrey Robinson, but he was upset by the reports that Mr Blair had used the reshuffle to show the Chancellor who was the boss.

"It was hard for Gordon to accept that he was the number two, after being the more senior partner for years. But Gordon has accepted that."

One minister said: "He now realises he has got a big international job to do, with the IMF, and the World Bank and G7, and that is what he is now doing."

It came to a head when reports of their bitter feud resurfaced last week.

There are likely to be more splits over policy between numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street, but Mr Brown may be ready to accept a limited move towards electoral reform. His big challenge will be in convincing Mr Blair to enter the single European currency.

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