Brown was 'set up as a fall guy' by Blair aides

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Allies of Gordon Brown accused Tony Blair's aides yesterday of seeking to undermine the Chancellor by co-operating with a new book that includes damaging revelations about their relationship.

Allies of Gordon Brown accused Tony Blair's aides yesterday of seeking to undermine the Chancellor by co-operating with a new book that includes damaging revelations about their relationship.

Friends of Mr Brown claimed he was being "set up as a fall guy" in the new controversy over the £1m donation to Labour by Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One boss.

Amid growing signs of tension between the Blair and Brown camps, the Chancellor's friends claimed that key aides of Mr Blair briefed Andrew Rawnsley, author of Servants of the People, and encouraged other Labour figures to help him.

They believe the Blairites hoped the book would endorse a previous claim by Mr Rawnsley, the political commentator who quoted a senior Downing Street source as saying that Mr Brown was "psychologically flawed". Last night one insider said: "The poisoning squad has been out in force."

Mr Brown's friends are bemused that press coverage on the book's revelations about the Ecclestone affair have focused on his involvement rather than Mr Blair's. They pointed out that it was the Prime Minister who met Mr Ecclestone at Downing Street to discuss a change of government policy on tobacco sponsorship of sport.

Mark Seddon, a member of Labour's national executive, told The Independent: "It was Blair who had Ecclestone round and accepted the cheque, so why is Brown being dumped on from on high? It is displacement, getting rid of the blame. They are spectacularly good at pushing it away from Blair."

Tension between the two camps will be fuelled by two articles in this weekend's edition of Tribune, the left-wing weekly, saying that Mr Brown would make a better Prime Minister than Mr Blair should Labour secure a second term. Mr Seddon, the paper's editor, writes that Mr Brown "has sought to smooth the feathers of offended Labour, just as the Blairites went out of their way to offend them. Labour would be happier under Brown, and so would the voters." Claiming that Mr Blair lacks the temperament for a radical second term, Mr Seddon adds: "Gordon Brown likes the Labour Party. Tony Blair is at best ambivalent."

Although the Rawnsley book highlights Mr Blair's frustrations with Mr Brown, allies of the Prime Minister denied they hoped it would harm the Chancellor. They suspect that much of his material was gathered from Treasury officials.

The Tories kept up the pressure over the Ecclestone donation last night, urging Mr Blair to answer the new allegations and to sack his Chancellor for "not telling the truth".

Frank Field, a former Labour minister, warned that the Government's troubles could haunt it in the way that sleaze bedevilled John Major's administration. "The worry must be... that in the next parliament we might have so created an image of ourselves, that it will be difficult to dislodge that image from the public mind," he told BBC Radio 4.

* The Conservatives applied further pressure to Gordon Brown on fuel prices yesterday by declaring they would cut at least 3p off the price of a litre if they were in power.

Claiming that a cut on this scale would save Ford Mondeo drivers £1.85 every time they filled their tank, Michael Portillo, the Shadow Chancellor, said that Mr Brown now had £5bn more in tax revenue than he predicted in his Budget last March. A three pence cut, said the Tories, would cost the Treasury only £525m and could be done without any impact on government spending. Labour hit back with allegations over Mr Portillo's links to an oil company.

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