Campbell 'told Blair to quit before May election'

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Indy Politics

Alastair Campbell told Tony Blair he should quit before the general election earlier this year, according to a new book.

The remarkable claim will further undermine the beleaguered Mr Blair as he struggles to restore his authority in the face of a growing rebellion.

It is made by two highly respected academics who were given unparalleled access to Labour's high command as they researched their account of the May poll. Denis Kavanagh and David Butler's book The British General Election of 2005 is published this week. Its most explosive revelation comes in an account of the extraordinary stand-off between Mr Blair and Gordon Brown in the run-up to the campaign.

In the early months of this year, private Labour polling showed that Mr Blair would win only by the narrowest of margins unless he campaigned in tandem with his Chancellor. Mr Campbell and Lord Gould, Mr Blair's pollster, struggled to bring the two rivals together for the good of the party, say the academics. But while it was known Mr Campbell had brokered the subsequent deal, none had suspected that Mr Blair's most loyal ally told him bluntly that he should consider quitting.

"Blair rejected Campbell's suggestion that he should consider standing down but, after some persuasion, he agreed to work more closely with his Chancellor," wrote Professor Kavanagh and Dr Butler. Mr Campbell remains a staunch defender of Mr Blair in public. In private, it now seems, the former No 10 director of communications once harboured doubts about whether Mr Blair should cling to office.

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, is revealed as having urged Mr Blair not to quit.

The former US president was among those said to have talked him out of standing down in the spring of 2004 "to ensure that he leave a more substantial New Labour legacy".