Brown has PM qualities, says Cook

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Manoeuvring to replace Tony Blair reopened yesterday when Robin Cook said Gordon Brown had prime ministerial qualities "in spades".

Manoeuvring to replace Tony Blair reopened yesterday when Robin Cook said Gordon Brown had prime ministerial qualities "in spades".

In an echo of John Prescott's warning that the "plates are moving'' under the Prime Minister, Mr Cook fuelled speculation by backing Mr Brown for his job. "Frankly, you are not looking for somebody with whom you'd like to have a pint in the lounge bar," Mr Cook said.

"You're looking for someone who knows how to run the economy, who has the skills to run Parliament and who can talk to other international leaders.

"These are the qualities that should concern us and I think Gordon has got all of them in spades."

Mr Brown and Mr Cook were regarded as bitter enemies until Mr Cook spoke of his "warmth" for the Chancellor early this year. Mr Cook wrote in his book that Mr Brown did not inspire affection but yesterday declared: "Marriage and fatherhood have softened him."

Senior ministerial aides were dismayed by Mr Cook's remarks to the Evening Standard, and saw them as evidence that the former foreign secretary could be seeking a cabinet position in a Brown government. "Robin wants to come back as Gordon's Chancellor," said one senior ministerial official. "And Jack Straw wants to take over as deputy leader." Mr Cook did not rule out accepting a post, but said: "I'm not looking for it."

Labour MPs were told yesterday that Mr Blair will address the Parliamentary Labour Party on 14 June. It will be seen as an opportunity to rally his MPs after the expected Labour defeats in the elections on 10 June.

Mr Cook, who resigned from the Cabinet over the war on Iraq, said the war was a "personal tragedy" for Mr Blair. He added: "One of the refreshing features about John [Prescott] is that he's a very honest politician.''

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