Peter Oborne

In power but not in office — yet

Peter Oborne says that Gordon Brown’s utterances on terrorism and ID cards indicate that he now sees himself as prime minister in all but name

Peter Oborne says that Gordon Brown’s utterances on terrorism and ID cards indicate that he now sees himself as prime minister in all but name

It has finally become accepted both in the inner Blair circle and the wider Labour movement that Gordon Brown will inevitably be the next prime minister and must be treated as such. The Chancellor would be the first modern prime minister not to have a driving licence, and the first intellectual in Downing Street since A.J. Balfour surrendered office in 1905. No previous prime minister has been able to boast a doctorate.

The substantive concession of power took place on Monday. Tony Blair was stranded in South Africa unable to attend the 100th anniversary meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, where he was due to speak. Engine trouble in South Africa, which one would like to imagine may have been provoked by Keir Hardie’s ghost, was the trouble. John Prescott stood in, but the real power has been granted to Gordon Brown.

The transfer was arranged in secret and, with one interesting exception, agreed by the identical cabal that set up New Labour 12 years ago: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alastair Campbell, Philip Gould. This close grouping meets once a fortnight. It discusses all sensitive matters to do with the impending retirement of Tony Blair from public life, as well as the management of the affairs of the Chancellor, reportedly down to his manner, clothes and deportment. The missing figure, of course, is Peter Mandelson, for whom Gordon Brown feels nothing less than venomous hatred, an emotion that is just as eagerly reciprocated.

This re-emergence of the original cabal is important for many reasons. New Labour has at all times been a conspiracy not merely at the expense of the British public but also of the Labour party as a whole.

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