Mr Brown and the strange case of those serial political assassinations

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The Independent Online
High-level complaints have been made to Tony Blair about the "uncomradely conduct" of Gordon Brown's friends, with some frontbenchers comparing the Shadow Chancellor's office to a killing machine.

A run of newspaper reports, denigrating and vilifying Shadow Cabinet members, have appeared over the last week, and senior Labour sources have noted that Mr Brown is fingered as the beneficiary of the assassinations.

Comparisons with Terminator and Reservoir Dogs were being made at Westminster, though sources close to Mr Brown denied involvement in the reports.

The Independent has been told authoritatively that the Labour leader has received complaints about in-fighting between frontbenchers, but that was officially denied last night. Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "This is the elevation of tittle-tattle into news. Mr Blair has had no such complaints."

However, the leadership was clearly embarrassed by the spate of reports, likened by one Shadow Cabinet member to the work of a "serial killer".

Although it is possible some reports have been generated by reporters, one of Mr Blair's aides plainly distanced the leader's office from any character assassination, saying it was a "golden rule" that colleagues were never, ever, rubbished.

It was accepted that other members of the Shadow Cabinet were not so squeamish.

Last Friday's London Evening Standard carried a report that "Shadow Health Secretary Chris Smith is facing demotion to a junior Cabinet post if Labour wins power - after a succession of 'lacklustre' performances.

"Mr Smith has come under fire from Labour leadership sources for failing to land punches on the Tories over the NHS."

Sunday's Observer followed that up, saying: "An ally of Mr Brown has boasted that the Shadow Chancellor's hated rival, Shadow Health Secretary Chris Smith, is in line for the chop, having faltered during a Commons debate...

"In his former post as Shadow Social Security Secretary, Mr Smith fought a long battle with the Treasury team over child benefit..."

That report also put the knife into John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, saying that Mr Blair had "axed" plans to create a super-ministry post for his deputy; providing him with a power-base to rival the Treasury.

"It is a victory for the Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who is now unlikely to have any serious rival on economic management."

Robin Cook, Labour spokes- man on foreign affairs and a rival of Mr Brown, has also taken criticism during the week, but some colleagues believe he brought it on his own head by talking of a Labour "landslide" and attacking two Tory right-wingers, Michael Portillo and John Redwood, for "racism".

The most striking promotion of Mr Brown was accompanied by an alleged demotion for Peter Mandelson, who is managing Labour's election campaign. Last Thursday's Daily Telegraph said Mr Blair had appointed Mr Brown the party's chief campaign manager. "The role places Mr Brown in an influential position to set the tone of Labour's campaign and, if the party wins, he will be credited with winning the first election for Labour in almost 20 years."

The report said: "Mr Blair's decision means that Peter Mandelson, who is in charge of election planning at the party head- quarters in Millbank Tower, will stay in the background." One senior Labour figure told The Independent last night: "This is all coming from one place. Someone, somewhere, is running out of control."

The problem for Mr Blair is that some colleagues are fighting tooth and claw for an assured place in his cabinet.