Gordon Brown was more concerned about salvaging his own reputation than the damage to Parliament when the expenses scandal erupted, according to a book published yesterday.
Lance Price, Alastair Campbell's deputy during his spell as communications director to Tony Blair, claims that Mr Brown failed to act decisively over expenses because his own claims for cleaning his London flat were leaked. He says this allowed David Cameron to seize the initiative on the issue.
In his book Where Power Lies, Mr Price quotes an unnamed senior Downing Street adviser as saying the Prime Minister went into "a furious sulk for 13 hours" when the story broke, and "behaved as if the only story that mattered was the one about himself".
He reports another confidante of Mr Brown as saying that "he is psychologically and emotionally incapable of leadership of any kind". This echoes previous claims – attributed to Mr Campbell but denied by him – that Mr Brown had "psychological flaws".
Mr Price paints a picture of despair within the Brown inner circle at his failure to recognise the seriousness of the expenses scandal. He accuses Mr Brown of creating a climate of distrust within Downing Street and being cut off from the concerns of voters.
One insider described his behaviour as "unforgivable" and told Mr Price that No 10 "isn't a very nice place for people to work. However bad it sometimes seems from the outside, it's far, far worse from the inside."
Launching the book yesterday, Mr Price said: "I was told repeatedly by very senior members of the Prime Minister's staff that he seemed to have no idea how angry and disillusioned people were. Whenever there was a crisis – and the expenses scandal is the perfect example – he was obsessed with saving his own skin, not with facing up to the threat to the reputation of Parliament. David Cameron was able to exploit that to his own advantage even though Tory MPs were every bit as guilty as Labour ones."
Last night close Brown allies dismissed the criticism. One said: "Lance Price wasn't particularly well informed when he was in No 10 – never mind in the many years since he has been out of No 10."
Aides pointed out that it was Mr Brown who insisted on the audit of all MPs' expenses claims in the past five years by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg, published yesterday. Mr Brown's official spokesman said: "What has happened has scarred our democracy. There is more to be done."
Downing Street is braced for more damaging claims about Mr Brown before the general election. Another book, to be published this month by the political columnist Andrew Rawnsley, is said to allege that the Prime Minister physically attacked his staff during a series of outbursts in No 10. It claims he pulled a secretary out of her chair and hurled abuse at aides when he was distraught over media reports that said he had been snubbed by President Barack Obama. A Downing Street source said: "We do not believe the stories are true."