Labour finds that moving forward is the hardest thing to do

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The Independent Online

Unusually, the Labour Party conference did not go according to the script written by Tony Blair. It was supposed to mark a switch from foreign affairs to the domestic policies around which the party would unite in the approach to the general election expected in May.

Unusually, the Labour Party conference did not go according to the script written by Tony Blair. It was supposed to mark a switch from foreign affairs to the domestic policies around which the party would unite in the approach to the general election expected in May.

The terrible ordeal of Ken Bigley ensured that Iraq eclipsed Labour's chosen theme of the week, policies to help "Britain's hard-working families". The events in Iraq were not under Labour's control. But the outbreak of hostilities between followers of Mr Blair and Gordon Brown was.

Last weekend, "Grumpy Gordon" made clear his displeasure at being sidelined in last month's reshuffle. Mr Blair had not meant to wound him. He was very keen to recruit a reluctant Alan Milburn as his election and policy chief. The former health secretary could strike a hard bargain: Mr Brown opposed his return to the Cabinet, so if Mr Blair had backed down, he would have been weakened, perhaps fatally.

Mr Blair wanted to keep Mr Milburn's brief vague so as not to antagonise Mr Brown. But Mr Milburn demanded that his role be set in stone, knowing that if it was not, the Chancellor would squash it anyway and preserve his grip on the election effort.

Mr Brown made clear in his conference speech that he was not about to hand over the levers of power over domestic policy to the man he views as his arch-rival for the Labour leadership. I suspect that key elements of the party's manifesto will be announced in the pre-Budget report in November and the Budget in March.

The Chancellor's grumpiness in a newspaper interview last weekend upset Mr Blair because it sparked three days of headlines about rifts between them.

In private, the Prime Minister called Mr Brown's behaviour "devious and shocking". One Blair aide added: "If Gordon can't be king of the castle, he is quite prepared to pull it down."

Earlier in the week, some Blair allies suspected that Mr Brown was trying to "jostle" the Prime Minister out. By yesterday, tempers in both camps had cooled. "Gordon wasn't mounting a coup; he was just letting off steam about the reshuffle," said one Blair man. "Lennon and McCartney," as the rock star Bono called the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, may have a strained relationship, but their party needs them to produce a few more hits.

There has been no such rapprochement between Mr Brown and Mr Milburn, who need to clear the air and find a way to work together. Although Mr Blair claims Mr Brown's election role is unchanged, Mr Milburn insists he is in charge.

The tensions that surfaced in Brighton have at least forced the Blair and Brown camps to agree that the election will both defend the Government's record and make a forward-looking "offer" to the voters.Mr Brown's conference speech rebutted the Blairites' claims that he wants a "safety first" manifesto.

What was trailed as a "policy rich" conference did not live up to its billing. Ministers will have to relaunch their ideas for a third term again and again. "It's a slow burning approach," one Blair ally said. "But we ended the week in better shape than we started it."

Mr Blair, who used to relish being "out in front" of his own party, hopes the Brighton conference has bridged the divide between them. His speech on Tuesday was of a man who recognised that he needed his party and even his old foes in the unions.

It is not just that an election is coming. The Iraq war has strained Mr Blair's relationship with many in his party to breaking point. Yesterday's conference debate will not provide the "closure" that some Blairites sought; Iraq is still too much of an open question. But it showed that at least some in the party are now ready to look to Iraq's future rather than re-run the battles of the past.

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