Blair allies accuse Brown of shifting blame for F1 row

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's allies rounded on Gordon Brown yesterday as they accused the Chancellor of trying to shift the blame for the Bernie Ecclestone affair on to the Prime Minister.

Tony Blair's allies rounded on Gordon Brown yesterday as they accused the Chancellor of trying to shift the blame for the Bernie Ecclestone affair on to the Prime Minister.

Downing Street aides were dismayed that Mr Brown, in a series of television interviews on Thursday, put the spotlight on Mr Blair by playing down his own role in the controversy over the £1m donation to Labour by the Formula One boss.

Asked whether he lied in a 1997 interview about the donation, he told Channel Four News: "I did not lie and I would not lie. I knew it was a sizeable donation, we did not talk about the details of the finances. I've never met Ecclestone, I've never talked to him about donations. I've never talked to anybody about corporate donations to the Labour Party." Mr Brown did admit he was aware Ecclestone had given a major sum.

But in a further sign of tension between the Blair and Brown camps, the Blairites also cast doubt on Mr Brown's claim that he had not been involved in party fundraising.

The Chancellor said: "I have got a rule since I became shadow Chancellor and Chancellor. I do not get involved in financing details. I do not see lists of donations. I think there should be a dividing line between those who make financial decisions, like the shadow Chancellor and Chancellor, and those who deal with party finances."

But one Blair aide hit back yesterday: "Gordon knows full well that lots of people meet donors. The important thing is that you don't trade policies with them and we didn't do that with Ecclestone. Gordon was so desperate to shift the blame from himself that he appeared to put it back on to Tony - as if it was all right for a prime minister to see donors but not a chancellor."

The back-biting dashed Mr Brown's hopes the interviews would end the row which erupted after a new book accused both men of lying when the donation emerged in 1997. Both deny the charge. The Tories rejected the assurances and warned they would not let the issue drop. Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, called on Mr Brown to resign as a "matter of honour". "If this really were a government as promised by the Prime Minister to be purer than pure, the Chancellor would say, 'I misled the people and because we have high standards of government I'm going to go'."

There were also signs of differences between Downing Street and the Treasury over pensions, after trade unions rejected Mr Brown's promise of extra money for the poorest old people. Number 10 was said to be "very edgy" over Mr Brown's handling of the issue.

The unions are threatening to defeat the Labour leadership at the party's annual conference, which opens in Brighton tomorrow, by demanding that the basic state pension be indexed to earnings instead of prices. The GMB general union warned there would be "an almighty row" if Labour officials tried to prevent a debate.

There was better news for Mr Blair when it emerged that Lord Neill of Bladen, the anti-sleaze watchdog who recommended the donation be repaid in 1997, is unlikely to launch a new inquiry into the Ecclestone affair. The Tories have asked him to look at it again, but his Committee on Standards in Public Life is expected to stick to its policy of not investigating specific cases.

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