This endless feuding will bring the New Labour house down in ruins

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Some of it is, of course, no more than tittle tattle, to use one of the Prime Minister's favourite phrases. The latest hardback brickbat to crash through the bow window of No 10 contains much that is, frankly, trivia. The outpourings of an embittered millionaire who was briefly a minister seem designed for the pursuit of vendettas and the settling of scores.

Some of it is, of course, no more than tittle tattle, to use one of the Prime Minister's favourite phrases. The latest hardback brickbat to crash through the bow window of No 10 contains much that is, frankly, trivia. The outpourings of an embittered millionaire who was briefly a minister seem designed for the pursuit of vendettas and the settling of scores.

Much of Geoffrey Robinson's account of how he came to make the £373,000 loan to Peter Mandelson, now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is semantics; and the difference between Mr Mandelson's "asking" for a loan and his dropping hints before being "offered" one is a matter of pedantry. The idea that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor sometimes argued and used coarse language during such exchanges should hardly shock.

Two things do matter, however. One is the extent to which Mr Robinson bankrolled the Labour Party and the offices of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - a web of conflicted interests that casts a shadow over the judgement of both men. The other is the further evidence of the violence of the personal hatreds that divide this government at its apex. A government is always an organised hypocrisy, the jostling for advancement occurring under the necessary pretence of unity. John Major's Cabinet was in a state of semi-open warfare over European policy. Harold Wilson's governments resembled nothing so much as a bucket of scorpions, with both personal ambition and policy disagreements fuelling the turmoil.

Just as with families, however, each unhappy government is unhappy in its own way. This one resembles others in that personal ambition prevents it making full use of its talents, but it is different in that Gordon Brown's coveting of his neighbour's job is unusually intense, as is the ferocity of the feuding between his supporters, such as Mr Robinson, and those of Tony Blair. And what makes the situation truly unique is the central role played by Mr Mandelson as the Prime Minister's trusted adviser and the object of the Brownites' venom. It is extraordinary that the three people most central to the creation of New Labour should have such psychologically flawed relations.

The lesson of Mr Robinson's venture into vanity publishing, therefore, is that this is no mere froth that will blow away at the first gust of serious politics. These tensions are damaging the Government; they contributed to the Government's initially uncertain handling of the fuel-tax protest; they have infected the succession to Donald Dewar in Scotland; and they have the potential to reduce the Government to chaos should it win a second term.

They are damaging the Prime Minister, of course. But they are doing far more damage to Mr Brown. If he thinks he is emotionally fit to lead a government, he needs to demonstrate it. That means firmly distancing himself from Mr Robinson and from his former press officer Charlie Whelan, who was seen with Mr Robinson at Saturday's Premier League between Coventry and Spurs and who continues to act as the Chancellor's cheerleader.

The Prime Minister has shown great forbearance, perhaps too much, but if Messrs Brown and Mandelson cannot be restrained, they may bring the house down on themselves. Before they can do that, one or both will discover that they are not indispensable after all.

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