Books will reveal Downing Street daggers

A dozen political biographies will shed some unwelcome light on the feuds and fights at the heart of Government
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Indy Politics

The Labour leadership is bracing itself for the start of the political biography season, with several books expected to reignite the simmering feud within the Government.

The Labour leadership is bracing itself for the start of the political biography season, with several books expected to reignite the simmering feud within the Government.

Publishers, including HarperCollins, Hamish Hamilton and Penguin, are completing their publicity offensives to launch books which will shed further light on the relationships between Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson.

At the last count, there are at least 12 biographies, commentaries and memoirs due for publication over the next three months by senior political figures or heavyweight analysts.

The timing could not be more troublesome for Mr Blair and the new Labour machine at Millbank, which is hoping to accelerate smoothly from this year's annual party conference into the preparations for the general election.

Instead, it faces a biography of Mo Mowlam, the forthright and embittered former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the first installment of Paddy Ashdown's diaries. Downing Street officials are nervous that it will detail Mr Blair's talks with the then Liberal Democrat leader over installing him in a Labour cabinet - a prospect which caused resentment among Cabinet ministers and Labour MPs.

The heaviest damage will come from press coverage of three books focusing attention on the Blair-Brown-Mandelson relationship, not least The Unconventional Minister by Geoffrey Robinson, the former Treasury minister who provided Mr Mandelson with his £273,000 house loan.

Andrew Rawnsley, a political columnist, is expected to focus on the alleged deal the Chancellor and the Prime Minister struck in opposition over Mr Brown's succession to become Labour leader, and the subsequent tension that provoked.

Interest in the book, due out around Labour's conference next month, is heightened by Mr Rawnsley's role in disclosing the quote by a Downing Street source accusing Mr Brown of being "psychologically flawed."

Soon afterwards, a revised paperback edition of the Peter Mandelson biography by Donald Macintyre, The Independent's chief political commentator, will be published by HarperCollins. Although the strongest material was used in the hardback edition, pulped last year after a former Labour official launched a libel action, Mr Macintyre has additional material on Mr Mandelson's rehabilitation, his promotion to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Brown-Mandelson feud.

Labour officials insist these books will have little influence on voter behaviour at the election, compared to the condition of the economy, the health service and schools. The revelations over the Prime Minister's leaked memos and Labour's slump in the polls were more damaging, they insist.

One party insider claimed that even the Cabinet rows make little impact. "Brown and Blair just feels like posh newspaper stuff," he said. "For the last six months we've been seeing what's froth and what's fundamental, what's spin and what's substance. You will find us using the same kind of language about these books."

It is the biography of Ms Mowlam, by Julia Langdon, a former political editor of The Mirror, and published by LittleBrown in October, which is causing most nerves, he said. Ms Langdon is rumoured to have a clear idea of Ms Mowlam's robust views of her colleagues and Number 10 officials. "This is the one people will look at with intense interest. She is one of the most popular people, and there will be something revealing in terms of her relationship with her colleagues."

Far less troubling will be a handful of books by senior Labour backbenchers from the older and unreconstructed wing of the party.

An authorised biography of Tam Dalyell, a maverick Labour backbencher, by Russell Galbraith, a former head of news and current affairs at Scottish Television, should pose little for Millbank to worry about. It may be a rare event this year: a proper political biography, albeit of a minor historical figure.

Stuart Bell, the veteran centre-right MP for Middlesbrough, is reportedly planning a short book called, ironically, Tony Really Loves Me. It is expected to question the Prime Minister's failure to promote Mr Bell. Then Joe Ashton, the unashamedly Old Labour Sheffield United director and MP for Bassetlaw, is planning a similarly unhappy book called Red Rose Blues. But, said one senior Labour official,: "Stuart Bell, who he? Joe Ashton, who he? I can't see them registering very much."

Millbank has had one genuine success in neutralising the potent threat of a direct attack on Mr Blair's policies from Peter Kilfoyle, the widely-respected former Foreign Office minister and MP for Walton in Liverpool.

Since leaving the Government, Mr Kilfoyle has become an influential spokesman for the disenfranchised traditional centre of the party and was planning to publish a book attacking Mr Blair's single-minded quest for middle England in Left Behind: Lessons from Labour's Heartlands.

However, he is now writing a book attacking the Tories timed for the general election campaign, along with Shaun Woodward, the former Tory communications chief who defected to Labour, and the Blairite MP Fraser Kemp.