Severe doubts about Gordon Brown's character and judgement have been raised ahead of the election in a highly critical book by a former senior Downing Street adviser.
In a series of interviews with current and former No 10 staff, Lance Price, deputy to Tony Blair's communications director Alastair Campbell, paints a damaging portrait of the way Mr Brown runs government. He describes the Prime Minister "shouting at staff, jabbing an angry finger, throwing down papers, kicking the furniture".
Mr Price, whose book is serialised exclusively in The Independent today and tomorrow, quotes aides as saying that the Prime Minister's treatment of junior staff is "unforgivable". They claim Mr Brown is obsessed with controlling hour-by-hour media coverage and shows "extraordinary flashes of anger" when a news story runs out of control. Others accuse him of allowing his staff to undermine ministers, including the Chancellor Alistair Darling, by briefing against them to the media. Although Mr Brown claims others had let him down by behaving in ways he would not have condoned, one official described that as "typical self-delusion".
Where Power Lies. Prime Ministers v The Media is based on interviews with staff including Damian McBride, the close Brown aide who resigned in disgrace last year after sending an email containing inaccurate smears about senior Tories including David Cameron.
One staffer describes as an understatement the claim that Mr Brown has "psychological flaws", a phrase attributed to Mr Campbell but denied by him. Insiders accuse Mr Brown of being "pathetic", indulging in "self-pity" when things go wrong. Another who has witnessed his behaviour told Mr Price: "He is psychologically and emotionally incapable of leadership of any kind."
The poisonous atmosphere inside No 10 is described as far worse than it looks from the outside and is said to stem from Mr Brown himself. He is portrayed as obsessed with short-term tactics. "Nobody knows what the big picture is. That has to come from the boss," one insider told Mr Price.
Brown allies reacted angrily last night. One No 10 source said: "Lance Price has absolutely no idea what goes on inside Downing Street. A very long time ago he spent about 10 minutes there. To suggest he is someone who has an insight into Gordon Brown's premiership is frankly laughable. He should stick to reviewing the newspapers on television. The world of Downing Street according to Lance Price is a complete fantasy."
However, other government insiders argued that Mr Price's portrait was accurate but out of date. One said: "The atmosphere has improved a lot since the leadership question was finally settled last month [after the failed coup against Mr Brown]. A cloud has been lifted." One minister said: "Gordon has had his tantrums in the past when mistakes have been made, but only because he is ... determined to succeed. The mood is much better now; everyone is rowing in the same boat and in the same direction."
Mr McBride defends Mr Brown, telling the author: "In the entire time I've been working with him I've never seen him throw anything. I've seen him shout and swear, but that is always quite a superficial thing, to release a bit of frustration, and then he settles down and can be normal again. The times when he's really angry are not when he shouts but when he's very quiet."
The timing of Mr Price's book is bad for Mr Brown, coming just as Labour has narrowed the Tory lead in the opinion polls, many of which now point to a hung parliament. His description of both Mr Brown's style and performance will be an unwelcome reminder of past criticism of the Prime Minister at a time when he is keen to spell out the "big choices" between Labour and the Tories on policy.
Downing Street braced for further allegations about the Prime Minister's behaviour this weekend in another book, The End of the Party, by Andrew Rawnsley, chief political commentator of The Observer. Reports have suggested that Rawnsley will claim that Mr Brown physically attacked his staff during a series of outbursts, pulling a secretary out of her chair and hurling abuse at aides while distraught over an alleged snub by Barack Obama during a trip to the US last year. The allegations have been hotly denied by Downing Street.
Who is Lance Price?
*Born: 3 September 1958, Swanley, Kent.
*Educated: Sackville Comprehensive School, West Sussex. Hertford College Oxford (philosophy, politics, economics, 1st).
*Career: Joined the BBC as a journalist in 1981, and spent 17 years there before joining Tony Blair's staff at 10 Downing Street in 1998 until 2000, where he deputised for Alastair Campbell in the press office. From 2000 - 2001 he was the Labour party's Director of Communications. He was the cause of controversy when the Government tried to block publication of his book The Spin Doctor's Diary, an account of his time working with Tony Blair. The book led to investigations by North Wales Police after he claimed the PM referred to "the fucking Welsh".
*Now: In his own words, "a freelance writer, broadcaster and commentator."