Tony Blair anointed Gordon Brown as his chosen successor in unveiling his final package of legislation before standing down as Prime Minister next year.
Mr Blair took everyone in the Commons, including the Chancellor, by surprise by making clear he saw Mr Brown as his inevitable successor during fiery exchanges on the Queen's Speech with David Cameron.
A beaming Mr Brown patted Mr Blair on the back at the close of his speech as the impact of the Prime Minister's words sunk in. "Everyone knew what it meant," said one Brown ally. "It wasn't choreographed. We weren't expecting it."
Despite the attempted coup by Brown supporters against Mr Blair in September, the Prime Minister and Chancellor have begun working more closely together in recent weeks. But there is still no agreement between them on when Mr Blair will leave Downing Street. "Gordon doesn't know," said one aide.
Some Blair allies suggest he remains determined that his "long goodbye" will last until next July. But that is opposed by Mr Brown, who wants to make maximum impact on the public in his first 100 days and does not want to take over just before the summer holiday period.
Mr Blair's endorsement is expected to kill off any lingering hopes among ultra-Blairites, who fear that Mr Brown might lose the next general election, or that another cabinet minister might challenge Mr Brown for the leadership. Some have been trying to persuade John Reid, the Home Secretary, or David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, to run - without success.
John Hutton, the Blairite Work and Pensions Secretary, said Labour had to "move on" following the coup attempt, adding: "I think Gordon Brown will be a tremendously impressive leader of Labour."
The Chancellor now looks a shoo-in. He will face a challenge from a left-wing Labour MP such as John McDonnell or Michael Meacher, but is expected to win an overwhelming majority in the electoral college in which Labour MPs, party members and the trade unions each have a third of the votes.
Five weeks ago, Mr Cameron scored a Commons coup against Mr Blair by challenging him to say whether he wanted Mr Brown to succeed him. The Prime Minister refused do to so. Yesterday the roles were reversed as Mr Blair easily deflected the Tory leader's attack.
Mr Blair told the Tory leader: "The next election, it will be a flyweight versus a heavyweight. And however much he may dance around the ring before times, at some point he will come within the reach of a big clunking fist. He will be out on his feet, carried out of the ring - the fifth Tory leader to be carried out, and a fourth-term Labour government still standing."
The attack trailed Labour's strategy for the next election - highlighting Mr Brown's experience and track record in delivering economic stability, while accusing an inexperienced Mr Cameron of lacking substance.
The Tory leader tried to sketch a different dividing line yesterday as he accused Labour of resorting to the "politics of fear" after security was made the key theme of the Queen's Speech. The Home Office will dominate the parliamentary timetable with Bills on organised crime, reforming the criminal justice system, ending trial by jury in serious fraud cases and toughening border controls. A separate Counter-Terrorism Bill could increase the 28-day period for which suspected terrorists can be held without charge.
Other central measures over the next year will affect the pensions system and the Child Support Agency, while a Climate Change Bill will set five-year targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But there were few details in yesterday's speech.
Mr Cameron said the package was "repetitive and hollow", and designed to keep a "tired and discredited" Labour Party in office. "The tragedy of this Prime Minister is that he promised so much and yet has delivered so little," he said.
A programme for Government
* The fight against terrorism will be "at the heart" of the Government's programme, with new counter-terrorism measures.
* Court procedures to be "rebalanced" in favour of victims and sentences made clearer.
* Police are to be given the authority to close anti-social premises, such as brothels, at 48 hours' notice.
* The probation service is to be opened to competition from the voluntary and private sectors.
* Immigration officers will get powers to seize cash and take foreign nationals' biometric details.
* The state pension age will be gradually raised to 68 and the link between pensions and earnings restored by 2012.
* Britain's emissions of CO2 will be cut by 60 per cent by 2050, overseen by an independent Carbon Committee.
* Serious fraud trials are to be allowed without a jury, where that is approved by a High Court judge.
* Estate agents are to be made to compensate homeowners for bad advice.Reuse content