Prescott ticks off Mandelson and Blair for sniping

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John Prescott publicly rebuked Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson yesterday for the faction fighting and backbiting by their aides that has added to the Government's troubles.

John Prescott publicly rebuked Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson yesterday for the faction fighting and backbiting by their aides that has added to the Government's troubles.

In his closing speech to the conference, the Deputy Prime Minister appealed to party figures not to fight their internal battles through the media. "It is the the duty of everyone, from the top to the bottom, to stick to our agenda and not feed theirs [the media's] with the tittle-tattle that is going on."

Putting the party on alert for a general election, which he said could be only six months away, Mr Prescott said the public wanted "real policies, not tittle-tattle". The book, Servants of the People by the political commentator Andrew Rawnsley highlighted tensions between Mr Blair and Mr Brown.

The Brown camp claims that the "poisoning squad" at Downing Street co-operated with Mr Rawnsley to undermine the Chancellor. Mr Mandelson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, denied helping the author.

The Blair inner circle suspects the Brownites of protesting over the Rawnsley book to "give cover" to the memoirs to be published soon by Geoffrey Robinson, the former Treasury minister and a close Brown ally, who is expected to make damaging revelations about Mr Blair and Mr Mandelson.

In a high-risk move, Mr Blair has appointed Mr Brown and Mr Mandelson to run Labour's election campaign despite their long-running personal feud.

Yesterday, one Blairite claimed the Brown camp was briefing against Mr Mandelson to persuade the Prime Minister to drop him from his election role. "The Brownites want things to get so bad that Tony will have to choose between Gordon and Peter," he added.

Simmering tensions between Mr Blair and Mr Brown were evident in Brighton over pensions. Union leaders accused the Chancellor of scuppering a compromise deal that would have averted the Government's defeat, claiming Mr Blair was more flexible than Mr Brown, who said losing the vote would be better than a "fudge".

A Blair aide added: "Gordon blocked a deal. The vote was unnecessary; it could easily have been avoided."

The pensions defeat stalled the fightback by the Prime Minister and undermined his claim that he was "listening". But an aide said: "We have drawn a line and stopped the haemorrhage. The party held its nerve."

Yesterday Mr Blair admitted the Government was seen as arrogant during the fuel crisis. "I think people did think we were simply sitting there saying, 'I don't know what you are on about, there's no problem, we're not listening' ," he said.

Asked if accusations of government of "arrogance" were proved right, Mr Blair replied: "Yes, I think there is truth in that ... There was a distance that grew up with people."

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