'Excluded' Brown threatens to go it alone at election

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Relations between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown hit a new low yesterday after the Chancellor indicated he was preparing to go it alone in the run-up to the general election after being "excluded" from campaign preparations by Downing Street.

Relations between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown hit a new low yesterday after the Chancellor indicated he was preparing to go it alone in the run-up to the general election after being "excluded" from campaign preparations by Downing Street.

In a sign of serious tensions between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, Mr Brown signalled that he would be forming his own ideas for Labour's third term after being sidelined from manifesto preparations.

Allies of Mr Brown said the Chancellor had been asked by more than 100 Labour MPs to visit their constituencies before the next general election and would be touring the country with his own campaign roadshow.

The decision to visit vulnerable Labour seats will be seen as an attempt by Mr Brown to build a power base after he was supplanted as "general election supremo" by Alan Milburn.

Yesterday, in an extraordinary step, the Chancellor set out his own agenda for a third term with ideas that he said "should" be in Labour's election manifesto.

Friends of Mr Brown expressed their frustration about being sidelined and hinted that the Chancellor believed he was being deliberately briefed against by Downing Street.

One close aide said: "Everyone thinks that Gordon has been excluded."

But a Treasury official denied that Mr Brown was being sidelined. He said: "Back in the autumn, after No 10 announced that Alan Milburn was what they called the election supremo, it was agreed with John Prescott and Tony Blair that the Chancellor would spend the election campaigning around the country, as indeed he has been doing and will do.

"He has received requests from well over 100 MPs to visit their constituencies during the election campaign.

"We read all the stories that the Treasury is being cut down to size or the Chancellor is being excluded from the manifesto or that policies are being prepared as an attack on Gordon. You raise your eyebrows, you shrug your shoulders and you get on with your job."

Tony Blair tried to rebuild relations with the Chancellor yesterday in an interview on Radio 4's Today programme in which he went out of his way to praise him and said he would play "a central role" in the election campaign.

Mr Blair said: "Whenever the election comes he will have as central a role in that election as he's had in the past two."

But after the interview Mr Blair caused astonishment by suddenly calling a televised press conference to coincide with a long-planned speech by the Chancellor on alleviating poverty in Africa.

The move was being interpreted as an attempt to overshadow Mr Brown's anti- poverty initiative, which the Chancellor has been planning since before Christmas.

The televised press conference, in which the Prime Minister is expected to comment on the tsunami disaster, will diminish the chances of the Chancellor's speech appearing on live television.

On Tuesday, Downing Street told journalists that Mr Blair would not be holding a press conference this week. The decision to hold a press conference at the same time as the Chancellor's speech was made "at quite short notice" by the Prime Minister, a Downing Street spokesman said.

The spokesman said: "The conference was decided by the Prime Minister and that is a matter for him.

"The decision rests with the Prime Minister and it was felt it was the best time. There were other meetings in the day. I think there were many considerations as to when these things are called."

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