New claims over leadership force Brown to call for truce

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown tried to draw a line yesterday under devastating new claims of feuding and bitterness between the two of them.

Amid growing fears among Labour MPs that the animosity threatens to derail the party's election campaign, a new book claimed that Mr Blair went back on a pledge to hand over power to Mr Brown before the next general election.

In poisonous exchanges, Mr Brown is said to have told the Prime Minister he would never trust him again, while Mr Blair accused his rival of consistently undermining him.

The two men will appear today before a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party where they will make a joint appeal for unity. In separate interviews yesterday, they urged the party to concentrate on the key issues facing the Government, but refused to deny the book's claims in detail.

Mr Blair said: "I have dealt with this six months ago. I said then that you don't do deals over jobs like this. You don't. And what both of us are actually concentrating upon are the issues that concern the country."

He added: "I am fighting the next election. I am going to stand, and I have said this, for a full term. That is what I intend to do." The Prime Minister said that the Government's election manifesto would be "unhesitatingly, unremittingly New Labour", and would put Mr Brown's economic achievements centre stage. Meanwhile Mr Brown, in a hastily organised appearance, called for a truce. He told the BBC: "It's very important that we all do what we can in a unified way to ensure the election of a Labour government ... I am not going to be diverted or distracted, nor is Tony Blair, by newspaper stories or books or rumours or gossip."

Animosity between the two men has grown in recent months with the Chancellor complaining that he is being squeezed out of the election campaign. The two men also appeared to be competing for headlines last week when a prime ministerial press conference was scheduled to coincide exactly with a speech being delivered by Mr Brown.

Brown's Britain, the new book by a Sunday Telegraph journalist, Robert Peston, claims Mr Blair repeatedly assured the Chancellor he would quit No 10 in autumn 2004. But he then reneged on the promise by announcing he would fight the next election and serve a full third term, apparently without telling the Chancellor first.

According to the book, Mr Blair changed his mind after Cabinet allies appealed for him to stay on in Downing Street.

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, told Sky: "We have Britain's two most important politicians squabbling like schoolboys. It is the politics of the playground."

Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary chairman, said: "The personal ambition of Blair and Brown now seems to be getting in the way of good government. Either they need to grow up and put their squabbles to one side or they cannot expect the electorate to support a divided Government at the next election."