Leading Article: Stop this nonsense, Mr Brown, you are not the best leader we never had

Share
Related Topics
The partial breakdown in the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor is serious, and damaging both to the Government and the country. On the face of it, it is so remarkable that Tony Blair should have been forced to rebuke his friend and ally in yesterday's newspapers that it is tempting to believe it must be an optical illusion in the world of smoke, mirrors and spin that is modern high politics. But there can be little doubt that Mr Blair wanted it known that he has lost patience with Gordon Brown's "psychological flaws" and his "daft and ill-advised" venture into vanity publishing, to repeat two of the most derogatory phrases attributed yesterday to those speaking on the Prime Minister's behalf.

This is the closest to a public dressing-down that can be administered without actually going public. It followed a pointed reminder to the Cabinet last week of the virtues of unity, and the announcement that Mr Blair would himself take the chair of a new welfare reform committee, with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, rather than the Chancellor, filling in in his absence.

It says a great deal about the state of the relationship between Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street that Mr Blair should have calculated that it was better to expose division at the heart of government than to allow Mr Brown's blatant self-promotion to go unchallenged.

Arguments over the busy buzzing of Mr Brown's supporters may seem like the small change of politics. Individually, the charges laid against the Chancellor by the Blairites are petty. He allowed a television documentary to be made about his role in Labour's election victory. He let it be known that he regarded himself as prime minister to "president" Blair: while the sweet phrases came from No 10, the serious action came from No 11. And he chose to "co-operate" with Paul Routledge over his biography, which laid bare his continuing resentment over the Labour leadership contest of 1994.

It was this last that could not be ignored. It does not matter, except as an indicator of his poor grasp of political reality, that Mr Brown thinks he could have beaten Mr Blair in the contest for the Labour leadership, and hence the premiership. What matters is the persistent and public hawking of this belief. The Chancellor claims he did not discuss the leadership contest with Mr Routledge. This is not true. In an interview in the Treasury he uttered these words which, as his biographer noted, said it all: "The newspapers, with a few notable exceptions, did not back me - not least because I was out of fashion. I was never part of the London scene anyway. But that did not in my view mean much, once the campaign started among ordinary Labour Party members and indeed backbench MPs."

By publicly coveting his neighbour's job, and apparently regretting his decision to pull out of the contest four years ago, the Chancellor puts himself in the wrong. More than simply coveting the premiership, the book makes it clear that Mr Brown still blames Mr Blair's supporters for plotting against him to deny him his rightful reward. Again, it does not matter whether he is right. If Mr Brown thinks that his past resentment is more important than the task in hand, he is a smaller person than he thinks he is.

If the Chancellor really were the figure of stature which Mr Blair has always generously maintained he was, he would have said loudly and often: "Tony Blair is the Prime Minister I could not have been. We owe the scale of our election victory to him and I will do all I can, publicly and privately, to support him for as long as he wants me to."

The danger in this government was never going to be simply disagreement over policy. The truth is, you could barely persuade a cigarette paper to slide between Messrs Blair and Brown on the issues that really matter. When the Tory splits started, it was damaging not just because they disagreed, but because they had grown to dislike and distrust each other, and so could not resolve their dispute.

Both Mr Blair and Mr Brown would like us to believe that their relationship is still strong enough to resolve differences. Indeed, it would have been a lot better for Mr Blair if he had told his advisers to hold their fire this weekend. But the speed with which this crisis has blown up (and be in no doubt, it is a crisis) does not inspire confidence. Although Mr Blair's irritation should have been kept within his circle, and addressed only to Mr Brown himself, it is not up to the Prime Minister to end this row. Mr Brown needs to give ground, openly and graciously. Above all, he needs to realise that his tactics are counterproductive. Not only are they undermining his prospects of realising the Government's best hopes; his own leadership prospects are weakening by the day.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Nick’s accident has been an education for my lexicon

Rebecca Armstrong
 

How did swearing ever get so frowned upon?

Stefano Hatfield
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links