Blair and Brown make up after row over NEC place

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown tried to "draw a line" under their increasingly acrimonious public feud yesterday as they issued a highly unusual joint statement to patch up their differences.

The two men moved to limit the fallout from their bitter spat over Mr Blair's refusal to grant the Chancellor a seat on Labour's ruling national executive committee (NEC) after a week of damaging headlines which left the new Tory leader, Michael Howard, with an open goal. In a recognition that briefings by allies of the two men had helped fuel the row, the statement insisted that both the Treasury and No 10 would "discourage people from talking to the press'' about the affair.

The two men agreed to set aside their differences over dinner at Downing Street on Thursday evening and decided that there would be no attempt to apportion blame for the week's very public dispute. The statement also attempted to limit the loss of face caused by Mr Blair's decision not to give Mr Brown a seat on the NEC, declaring that the Chancellor would be able to attend the committee "whenever he wishes".

It said: "The Prime Minister and the Chancellor agree that a line should be drawn under the events of this week. Regarding the NEC, the Chancellor can automatically attend whenever he wishes.

"Their offices will actively discourage people from speaking to the press on the events of this week and concentrate on key messages about the Prime Minister and the Chancellor continuing to work together.

"In particular they will concentrate on ensuring the success of the consultation exercise being launched by the part y in the near future, getting across the key messages, the current and continuing strength of the British economy, constant improvement in the delivery of the public services and exposing the true nature of the Tory party under Michael Howard.''

It was the second time this year that the two men had been forced to make a statement to quell speculation about deteriorating relations. Downing Street and the Treasury made a hasty public statement in May to deny Mr Blair and Mr Brown were at odds over the euro.

The row gave Mr Howard an opening to launch his first salvo against the Government as Tory leader yesterday as he attacked the two men for putting personal "squabbling" ahead of Britain's interests. He added: "It is enough to make you want to tear your hair out''.

Interviewed on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2, Mr Howard said: "At a time when Britain's public services are crying out for reform and improvement, we have the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer spending their time squabbling over who should sit on Labour's National Executive Committee. It is just not good enough. The British people deserve better.''

Earlier, Jack Cunningham, the former cabinet "enforcer", intervened in the spat, appealing for discipline in the party. He said: "We can't afford to be fiddling around with minor issues here. We have got to make sure that the Labour Party and Labour Government is unified.''

In another pointed intervention, apparently aimed at Mr Brown, John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, said: "We are not in politics for what we can get for ourselves."