'Give me a hint,' said Blair when Brown refused to reveal his budget

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What really goes on behind the closed doors of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street? Derek Scott, a former Number 10 adviser, offered an answer yesterday and threatened to widen divisions between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown by accusing the Chancellor of being "obstructive and deceitful", denying Mr Blair information and refusing to co-operate with Number 10.

What really goes on behind the closed doors of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street? Derek Scott, a former Number 10 adviser, offered an answer yesterday and threatened to widen divisions between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown by accusing the Chancellor of being "obstructive and deceitful", denying Mr Blair information and refusing to co-operate with Number 10.

Yet rival reports suggested that Mr Blair was still leaving the door open for Mr Brown to succeed him as Prime Minister by standing down before the end of the next Parliament.

Mr Scott's version of events was contained in his new book, Off Whitehall. Mr Blair's chief economic adviser until earlier this year entered the political soap opera by telling how Mr Blair had to ask Mr Brown to "give me a hint" after the Chancellor refused to divulge details of the 1998 budget.

His book, serialised in The Sunday Times, said Mr Brown once refused to discuss the five tests for euro entry with Mr Blair, and recounted how Treasury officials had to be smuggled into Number 10 for briefings.

"Soon it became known throughout Whitehall that, in some areas at least, the Chancellor could defy the Prime Minister with impunity," Mr Scott wrote.

In passages highly critical of Mr Blair, he said the Prime Minister's failure to read economic briefs during a trip to South America in 2001 led to one official asking whether he would like some economic textbooks as part of his holiday reading.

The Treasury said the book was not worth a response.

Senior Blairites tried to quell the surge of reports detailing a Blair-Brown rift, illustrated in one paper with mocked up pictures of the pair, plus Alan Milburn, as if they had been in a fight.

Mr Milburn's appointment to the Cabinet on Wednesday, where he will hold responsibility for general election strategy, is said to have angered Mr Brown. But the Brown camp expressed anger yesterday at what was seen as a week of hostile briefing against the Chancellor.

The comments continued yesterday. Stephen Byers, the Blairite former transport secretary, also criticised cabinet infighting in comments seen as a veiled attack on Mr Brown.

Meanwhile, Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, called on her colleagues to stop the squabbling. She condemned "gossip" about the leadership as "a waste of time and a distraction from the central job of making sure that, at the next election, we've got a radical and exciting manifesto, that will engage people's enthusiasm, and give us that third term to deliver for them."

Mr Byers went further, telling GMTV: "If they use it to advance their personal ambitions in a way which divides the party, then they will be condemned by Labour Party members for doing so."

Kate Hoey, a former sports minister, expressed the view on the backbenches that Mr Milburn must have returned to show Mr Brown that Mr Blair is really in charge.

She told Sky News: "I think we are going to have Tony Blair for the next election. Gordon missed his chance a few months ago. That would perhaps have helped the Labour activists to feel that there is a change happening and to get rid of the whole heresy of the war."

But Frank Dobson, a former health secretary, reflected unease among Labour MPs in marginal seats, suggesting that the danger ministers face is not necessarily from each other. The Conservatives could overhaul Labour in some seats if Labour voters stay at home, he warned. "A lot of Labour MPs in marginal seats are bothered about their circumstances. When they go out canvassing, knocking on doors in the predominantly Labour areas in their seats, they're not getting a very good response."

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