Who will deliver Gordon from these turbulent memoirs?

Just when you might have thought it could not get worse for the Prime Minister, we enter the battle of the memoirs. Reading the press this weekend, it is as if senior Labour figures feel they need to speed their stories to the papers while the two words “Gordon” and “Brown” are still high news. Labour figures have certainly learnt from the NU Lab Bumper Book of Spin when it comes to sending out salacious stories and exciting tittle-tattle to boost circulations and encourage good contracts with newspapers for extracts from their literary toils.

John Prescott has confirmed what all good journalists were telling us – and all MPs who watched carefully knew. There was a series of bruising rows between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, and Brown did want the top job. All those official denials, all those pictures and stories spun, especially at election time, to show what good buddies they were, did seek to conceal a very difficult relationship. The Blair government was split into rival camps, and they did all seek to mislead with their official statements, while briefing extensively behind the scenes about the endless disagreements and hurt feelings. One of the reasons why the taxpayer had to pay for an expensive Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, was to handle these family rows, apparently.

John Prescott gave good advice when he suggested to the Prime Minister that he should have sacked Gordon Brown. I always felt Tony Blair should have offered Gordon Brown the Foreign Secretaryship in the third Parliament. He could have presented it to him as a necessary broadening of experience before eventually taking over as PM. If Gordon had accepted, it would have broken his power-base at the Treasury, which was used to associate Gordon with the large sums of public money being spent on causes dear to the hearts of the Labour MPs whose support the would-be Leader needed. It was also the power-base he used to block any Blair reform he did not like. Had Gordon refused the move, all but his strongest supporters would have thought him petulant and disloyal to the team.

Cherie Blair’s memoirs have been brought forward for earlier publication. It is not helpful to the PM to have this concentration on the Blairite past, and the rows at the top that characterised it, so close to an important by-election in Crewe. The aside that Tony is now offering advice on the next election, and how to win, invites retaliation from the PM. The Memoir threatens to rekindle the old rows, as it is difficult for the PM to leave it all unchallenged, without someone putting his point of view. It was, after all, the unpopularity of Blair’s war which led the Labour party pressurising him into going. Raking over the immediate past like this encourages some to remember what they did not like about that period, and others to make unfavourable comparisons between the old PM and the present one.

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  1. Tony Makara
    Posted May 11, 2008 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Proof if needed that the Labour government has always been a government at war with itself. This I believe is largely because the Labour party has been on unnatural territory and many long to return to the clause four era. No-one can live a lie forever but living a lie is a lot easier when things are going well. Now that were are witness to the dying embers of the Labour government we see all the old animosities that were swept under the carpet in the time of swaggering electoral victories are now out in the open, like a gaping bloody wound. I have a friend who is a lifelong Labour activist and we spoke at length about the 10p tax fiasco, which she admitted was a complete act of villany against the poor. However the most interesting thing she said about the whole row was that it gave Frank Field a golden opportunity to pay Gordon Brown back and in her mind the row was more about Frank Versus Gordon than about holding the government to account. One thing is for sure, the Labour party is now in a period of open bloodletting, where this will end we can only guess? but we should not be surprised if Gordon Brown eventually becomes the slaughtered sacrificial lamb

  2. [[NAME EDITED]]
    Posted May 11, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful! Let them all (destroy – ed) each other.

  3. John
    Posted May 11, 2008 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    "John Prescott has confirmed … Gordon Brown did want the top job" –

    No! Really! Stone the crows – did he really??? Who'd have thunk it?

    Redwood has succumbed to the professional politician's disease, believing that everyone outside Westeminster is a complete idiot. We've known all this stuff for many years, and have been yawning about it for most of that time. Only media hacks and MPs, living on some planet Zog, think that the rest of us could care less about this old nonsense.

    Reply: Certainly not. Of course I and you have known it for years, and I have often said as much. The point I was making was that the spin machiens nonetheless from time to time managed to get the media to run the opposite story, that Blair and Brown were great buddies, as they all said on the record.

  4. mike stallard
    Posted May 11, 2008 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Whatever people think about Gordon Brown, this act of betrayal disgusts me.
    There are certain things that friends and colleagues should not talk about.
    Cherie's upbringing (words left out) should have warned her that certain subjects are better left behind closed doors.

  5. John
    Posted May 11, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Do we really have to put up with this constant barrage against Brown for the next two years?
    As much as I enjoy it, I really wish the guy would just do everyone a favour and quit.
    Failing that, can't you organize an overthrow or coup d'etat John?
    WE did not vote HIM in.

    Reply: I think it is unlikely he will be forced out – Labour cannot agree on a successor, and they need around 70 names demanding a contest. He is unlikely to leave of his own volition. I think it best to assume he stays for the 2 years.

  6. Rose
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Our Pauline and her Paul have emerged by far the best-looking and best-behaved pair in this opera. It is worth remembering another pair: Lord Rosebery was lucky enough to have a Chancellor of the Exchequer in his administration (Sir William Harcourt), but they too had to use a John (Irish Secretary Morley) as go-between, because for the entire period they were running the country they never spoke. Ego again, not principle. And what happened next?

  7. Rose
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    John (1), did you hear Nick Jones confessing he had been bullied by the spin doctors into writing for years what they wanted him to write in the Telegraph? Of course we all knew it was spin, and that the Telegraph was in Brown's pocket just like all the rest of them, but it was interesting to hear the deafening silence across the media that greeted this unusually candid confession.

  8. jane
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I am not surprised that the past has come back to haunt Gordon Brown. He has always felt that he should have been PM and for years he has sulked, manipulated others and tried to destabilise Tony Blair's premiership. He most certainly used his authority over other cabinet ministers by being in control over department's spending powers. I also agree that he should have widened his experience by moving from the treasury. Anthony Seldon in Blair Unbound writes that his removal from the Treasury was considered but Tony Blair was frightened of the damage he would have caused from the back benches. Think of his plotting from within the Cabinet. I am convinced he was complicit in the coup to remove Tony Blair. Of course he is too clever – "get on with it but keep my name out of it".

    Somehow though it is not in his character to move from the Treaury as he would have lost his power over other colleagues. Cherie was right to defend her husband – she was aware what was going on. I think she has behaved impeccably -I know I would have been more scathing of my husband's enemy. She is also right to say that her husband was more suited to the top job. I believe that she has had a rotten press particularly from the Daily Mail and many female journalists who write for the tabloid press. Her superior intelligence is obviously a threat to many.

    I am bewildered that two people can apparently do a deal to hand over power. Where do the PLP and members of a political party stand in the handover?

    It is amusing. The person who has craved power for so long, who has prepared for the role, who has led us to believe that he was the superior person in the Government is making a mess of the leadership. Just deserts perhaps?

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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