Brown offers an olive branch to rivals

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Gordon Brown has promised his bitterest rivals they would be offered cabinet posts under his leadership as an uneasy truce was called in the internal strife crippling the Government.

The Chancellor flatly denied any knowledge of last week's manoeuvring against Tony Blair and brushed aside accusations that he was a control freak and not a team player.

He also held out an olive branch to his foes, including the former home secretary Charles Clarke, in a wide-ranging interview in which he set out some of the principles that would underpin his leadership.

His lieutenants said the offer was aimed at healing the wounds that had opened within the party, while his Blairite critics, who are still hoping a heavyweight leadership challenger will emerge, interpreted it as a sign of weakness.

But both sides appealed for calm at the top, with Brownites saying they had achieved their aim of extracting a public promise from the Prime Minister to step down within a year.

The Chancellor was forced to make a strong defence of his leadership qualities after criticisms that he alienated colleagues were followed by claims yesterday that up to 10 cabinet ministers were ready to back an "anyone but Gordon" candidate. He told BBC1's Sunday AM: "My favourite sport at school was rugby and all the sports are team work, but rugby particularly is about team work."

Mr Brown said he wanted other candidates to stand for the leadership to stimulate a debate that would lead to a "cabinet that can draw on all the talents", including potential rivals such as John Reid, David Miliband and Charles Clarke. The last has described him as "deluded".

Mr Brown said of the former home secretary: "Charles Clarke is someone who did very well as an education minister. He ran into problems at the Home Office. I'm not going to hold against him statements that he made."

It emerged yesterday that Tom Watson, the close ally who led an attempt to oust Mr Blair last week, had visited the Chancellor in Scotland days before he resigned from the Government in protest at the Prime Minister's failure to name a day. Mr Brown's spokesman insisted the two men had not discussed politics as Mr Watson only stopped briefly to drop off a present for the Chancellor's baby son. Mr Brown said yesterday he knew nothing of the letter signed by Mr Watson and 14 other Labour MPs demanding the Prime Minister's departure. "There were rumours, of course, about all sorts of things happening during the course of that week," he said. "If anybody had asked me about the contents of that letter, I would have said it was completely ill-advised."

Mr Brown said an administration he led would be driven by a "moral compass" that centred on hard work, fairness and responsibility towards others.

He said improving the life chances of children would be at the heart of his agenda and indicated his support for reforming the House of Lords, a regime of managed migration and extending the 28-day period for which terrorist suspects can be questioned without charge.

He acknowledged the West had not properly prepared for the aftermath of the Iraq war but insisted he only supported the withdrawal of British troops there and in Afghanistan when the situation there allowed it.

Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister and close ally of the Chancellor, said Iraq had become a "symbol of mistrust and division" between the Labour leadership, Labour activists and voters. Party members were disillusioned over the war, Britain's close relations with the United States and the Government's position on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, she told The Sunday Times.

Senior Labour figures believe the Prime Minister will survive until the new year, but will be forced to step aside before the Scottish and Welsh elections in May. Brownites argued they had made a huge breakthrough in forcing Mr Blair's on-the-record promise and would now back off from forcing the issue.

Mr Blair's supporters distanced themselves from Mr Clarke's attack on Mr Brown and pointed out that two so-called Blairite "outriders", Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers, had gone to ground over the weekend.

In a testing week for Labour, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will attend the TUC Congress tomorrow. Mr Blair will address delegates, while Mr Brown will speak at the general vouncil dinner. On Thursday, the Cabinet meets for the first time since the summer break.

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