Blair tells ministers to stop squabbling

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Tony Blair ordered his cabinet ministers to stop squabbling and get on with their jobs yesterday when he sought to end the turmoil caused by the memoirs of the former minister Geoffrey Robinson.

Tony Blair ordered his cabinet ministers to stop squabbling and get on with their jobs yesterday when he sought to end the turmoil caused by the memoirs of the former minister Geoffrey Robinson.

The Prime Minister dismissed the controversy as "froth" and criticised the media for concentrating on it. But he also left his ministers in no doubt that he wanted an end to faction-fighting among their aides.

Mr Robinson's book highlighted the Cabinet's divisions over the single currency. It also put a new spotlight on his £373,000 loan to Peter Mandelson and his financial support for Mr Blair's private office. Mr Mandelson has told friends he believed the book was part of a campaign to "destroy" his political career by allies of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who strongly denied the charge.

Speaking to businessmen in South Korea, Mr Blair said: "In modern politics, in the modern media age, the pressures of the short term are powerful, but the responsibility of governments is to focus on the long term, on the decisions needed to deliver long-term strength."

He warned: "With the relentless focus on day-to-day events and personalities, it is vital that political leaders never lose sight of this, of the need to forget the froth and focus on the fundamentals."

The Prime Minister added: "Political leaders who fail to face up to the big questions and bounce around from short-term issue to short-term issue, fail the first test of leadership." Describing himself as "a committed long termist", he said there was no easy road to success. He would not back down on the "big choices", saying: "Whatever the political risks, we will do what we believe is right for the long term."

However, the controversy sparked by the Robinson book showed little sign of cooling yesterday. Mr Robinson, writing in the New Statesman magazine, which he owns, suggested that Mr Blair should sack Mr Mandelson from his Cabinet unless he stops trying to change the Government's policy to "get his own way" on issues such as the single currency.

"He [Mr Mandelson] wants to be his own man. Fine. But he has to work in a team. And if he won't play by the team's rule, then the team won't play well, and the captain will in due course do what a captain has to do." Mr Robinson denied he was "bitter and self-indulgent," saying those refusing to confront what he called "the Peter problem" were guilty of self-deception.

Charlie Whelan, the Chancellor's former press secretary, writing in the same magazine, said the Northern Ireland Secretary's "poisonous personality makes him the cancer at the heart of the Government".

He said: "The vast majority of Labour members, MPs and cabinet ministers all distrust him and think Blair is crazy to keep him on. I've never understood why Blair seems to have a blind spot as far as Mandelson goes."

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