Gordon Brown is an "unpleasant" person who is not liked by many of his fellow ministers, George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, claimed yesterday.
The vehemence and personal nature of the attack on his opposite number took Mr Osborne's audience by surprise, after David Cameron's pledge that the Conservatives under his leadership would avoid "Punch and Judy" politics.
Mr Osborne also appeared to be breaking the confidence of unnamed ministers who have confided in him that they do not get on with the man who is expected to be the next Labour Prime Minister.
"It seems to me he has been nothing but unpleasant in his dealings with me," Mr Osborne told a lunch meeting for women political journalists in Westminster yesterday. "That's a decision for him to take. I've had very good relationships with other ministers I've shadowed. I understand from conversations I have had with other Labour ministers that this is not an uncommon experience."
Mr Osborne drew a contrast between the "wide range" of people who advise and talk to David Cameron and what he called "the five-strong cabal surrounding Gordon". Mr Osborne complained that since he became Shadow Chancellor, after the general election last May, he had had only one telephone conversation with Mr Brown, who rang to brief him about a trip he was making to Gaza. At other times, he said, Mr Brown has deliberately ignored him, passing him in the corridor "without a flicker of recognition".
It is an open secret in Westminster that MPs and even ministers will talk privately to their political opponents behind their colleagues' backs - but the implication that some of them have been bad mouthing the Chancellor to his Tory "shadow" will provoke fury in 11 Downing Street.
Observers also noticed that Mr Osborne directed the whole of his attack at Mr Brown, and did not utter a word of criticism of Tony Blair - an indication of how leading Tories are concentrating on the period that will follow Mr Blair's departure.
Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne appear also to have developed a "good cop, bad cop" routine, in which the Shadow Chancellor goes on the attack, while the Tory leader presents a friendly face to people who might be persuaded to switch political support from Labour to the Conservatives.
Mr Cameron will be in Leeds today, drawing attention to the problems faced by first-time buyers, and calling on the Government to scrap the home information packs that add around £1,000 to the cost of buying a new home.
The Tory leader will say: "There is a real gap between the haves and have-nots in Britain today; between those who own their home and those who increasingly feel that they will never be able to fulfil their aspiration of having a place of their own. Under this government, home ownership for those starting out in life threatens to become the preserve of a lucky few with the number of first-time buyers in 2005 at the lowest level since 1980. Conservatives are on the side of opportunity and we want to bring down the barriers to getting on the housing ladder, to share prosperity and to give families the chance to fulfil their aspirations."
Kirstie Allsopp, the presenter of Channel 4's Location, Location, Location, will accompany Mr Cameron during his visit to Leeds.
Age: 55 (two years older than Tony Blair).
Family: Son of Dr John Brown, a Church of Scotland minister.
Youthful act of rebellion: Shoulder-length hair.
What he thinks of George Osborne: "He likes to give the impression to the public that he is a policy-free zone."
And of Osborne's 'flat tax': "An idea that they say is sweeping the world, well, sweeping Estonia, well, a wing of the neo-Conservatives in Estonia."
Known to Tory Tolkein fans as: The Dark Lord Sauron.
Age: 34 (five years younger than David Cameron).
Family: Son of Sir Peter Osborne, head of wallpaper firm, Osborne and Little.
Youthful act of rebellion: Changed his name from Gideon to George.
What he thinks of Gordon Brown: "Unpleasant" and "past his sell-by date".
And of Brown's recent make-over: "He can change his ties, change his shirt, and even change his teeth, but he actually needs to change his economic policies."
Known to Tory Tolkein fans as: Merry.Reuse content