Gordon Brown's role in Labour's general election campaign is still unresolved as he prepares to resume his solo nationwide tour today.
Tony Blair had been hoping the Chancellor would take on a prominent frontline role in Labour's effort to win a third term immediately after presenting his Budget on Wednesday. But tense discussions between them have not yet produced an agreement on Mr Brown's formal title and remit.
Senior Labour figures had hoped an announcement would be made this week on the party's campaign structure, including a formal title for the Chancellor. But there was little sign of that last night. Instead, Mr Brown may chair press conferences about economic policy without having a formal post. Labour MPs who criticised the party's pre-election campaign want to see Mr Brown restored to a pivotal position.
Yesterday the Chancellor put on a show of unity with the Prime Minister when they unveiled a Labour poster claiming the Tories would cut £35bn from public services. As they chatted to bystanders, they ignored questions about Mr Brown's precise election role.
Mr Brown did not spearhead Labour's attack on the Tory plans at a press conference. That was held by Alan Milburn, who has taken over Mr Brown's post as election supremo, Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, and Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Labour insiders insist that relations between Mr Blair and Mr Brown were improving and said the Chancellor's political aides were "fully on board" the Labour campaign, helping to draft a campaign document about the Tories' programme issued yesterday.
But allies of Mr Brown said they were unaware of moves to change his role. One said: "As far as Gordon is concerned, the decision on who runs the campaign was made by the Prime Minister last autumn and he is getting on with the role they agreed at the time, which is to help MPs in tough seats." The Chancellor has promised to visit 120 Labour-held constituencies after being inundated with requests.
Brown supporters dismissed as "ridiculous" claims from the Blair camp that the Chancellor had been "sulking" or "semi-detached". One ally said: "He is playing a full and vigorous role in the campaign. He is doing everything he can to support his colleagues."
One Labour insider said: "Gordon will come back only if he has a clearly defined job. The problem is how to square that with Alan Milburn's role. They are trying to find a formula."
Mr Milburn denied he had been frozen out. "I would have thought that yesterday, with the Budget, it would have laid to rest all this nonsense." He said the strength of the economy was the cornerstone of Labour's campaign. "The idea that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be a key player in that is nonsensical." After reports that Mr Blair might move him to the Foreign Office if Labour wins, Mr Brown hinted strongly that he would like to remain at the Treasury.
Asked whether this Budget would be his last, he said: "It is for the electorate to decide, then the Prime Minister. I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, doing the job as Chancellor." He added: "I've been doing this job for eight years. It's not the job you do, it's what you achieve."
* Gordon Brown is more valued in the eyes of the public than the Prime Minister, according to a new poll. As many as 63 per cent of those questioned believe the Chancellor is an "asset" to Labour compared to 34 per cent who cited Tony Blair, according to the YouGov poll in today's Telegraph.Reuse content