Bitter feuds in Downing Street revealed by books

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The personal feuds in Tony Blair's Cabinet were laid bare yesterday when two books revealed the Prime Minister's running battles with Gordon Brown and how he froze out Mo Mowlam from the Northern Ireland peace process.

The personal feuds in Tony Blair's Cabinet were laid bare yesterday when two books revealed the Prime Minister's running battles with Gordon Brown and how he froze out Mo Mowlam from the Northern Ireland peace process.

Although Downing Street dismissed the books, Mr Blair fears they may divert attention from his attempt to focus on "policy rather than personality" and to use the Labour conference as the springboard for a general election in spring.

While Mr Blair's treatment of the popular Ms Mowlam will raise hackles in the party, aides fear the account of his relationship will Mr Brown may have more far-reaching consequences. Last week Ms Mowlam said she was leaving politics at the next election.

But Mr Blair will have to work closely with his Chancellor for much longer. In Servants of the People the commentator Andrew Rawnsley says Mr Brown threatened to resign this year after Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made a speech supporting British entry into the single currency.

The book tells how the Chancellor kept Mr Blair in the dark before disclosing Labour's policy on the single currency in 1997, in which he ruled out joining before the next election. "The feuding must end," Mr Blair told Mr Brown at an inquest on the presentational disaster. But, the book says, it continued.

Civil servants likened the Blair-Brown relationship to "a tempestuous marriage". Mr Rawnsley says Mr Blair would shout at the way Mr Brown operated, saying: "Gordon's problem is that he hasn't got a family." In turn, the Chancellor shouted at the Prime Minister that "you've stolen my f****** budget" after he promised extra cash for the health service in an interview in January. Mr Rawnsley suggests Mr Brown is unimpressed with Mr Blair's grip on economics.

Mr Blair's relationship with Ms Mowlam is detailed in a biography, Mo Mowlam, by the political journalist Julia Langdon. Ms Mowlam did not authorise the book but she read the transcript and, according to Ms Langdon, did not ask for any changes. The book says Mr Blair would sometimes not speak to Ms Mowlam and that she angrily refused to take his phone calls.

As Northern Ireland secretary she was sidelined as Mr Blair and his officials took over negotiations on the peace process. Once, as she poured tea for Bill Clinton and Mr Blair, she told the president: "Oh, didn't you know, I'm the new tea lady around here."

The book confirms an Independent report that Ms Mowlam wanted to become foreign secretary. Later she astonished friends by proposing herself as a last-minute candidate for mayor of London.

* In a Reader's Digest interview published today Mr Blair hinted that he might eventually stand down, because the job makes it difficult to protect the privacy of his family.

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