Peter Hoskin

The insiders bite back

The insiders bite back
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Another weekend, another set of embarrassing revelations for Gordon Brown.  The Mail on Sunday continues its serialisation of Peter Watt's Inside Out; this time focusing on what Watt wryly describes as Labour's "plans ... for swapping the most electorally successful Labour Prime Minister in our history for Gordon Brown."  

Ok, so the Blairite-Brownite wars are nothing new, but this alleged Brown quote, made at the time of the cash-for-honours scandal, deserves adding to the notebook:

"Later, rumours swirled in No10 of a furious bust-up between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. ‘I’ll bring you down with sleaze,’ the Chancellor was said to have yelled."

Although, to my mind, this passage could say just as much about Brown's way of operating:

"My colleagues and I were shocked when, during the long negotiations about how the contest would work, he blatantly tried to skew the process as it was being drafted to make it more difficult for anyone else to run.

One of our plans was to have complete transparency over nominations for the leadership. The idea was that there would be a two or three-day period in which MPs could nominate candidates, and during this time we would publish the names of runners and their backers as they came in.

However, Gordon did not want us to publish the names of any candidate until they had at least 45 nominations, the minimum required to run. This would have made it very difficult for anyone but him to stand.

If we had bowed to his demands, it would have meant that MPs thinking about supporting someone else, like David [Miliband], would have been left in the dark about the strength of the opposing candidate.

Gordon, who wasn’t going to have any difficulty drumming up 45 supporters, would become an official candidate within minutes of nominations officially opening, with the list of his backers on the website getting longer by the minute.

As an MP with an eye on your career, how could you risk not adding your name, when you had no idea if any rival was near to getting the 45 required?

Gordon’s plan would have made it virtually impossible for anyone else to stand, and any notion of party democracy would have gone out of the window.

I saw this as a blatant attempt by the Chancellor to sew up the contest. I talked to Mike Griffiths, the NEC chair, and he agreed with me. Others at HQ felt the same.

Gordon backed down." And then there's this great account of Brown and Blair's reactions to the news that Harriet Harman had won the deputy leadership race:

"I had said I wouldn’t tell anyone the result until the official announcement but I received a call from Gordon’s office asking if I would tell just him, personally. I went to his hotel where he had been putting the finishing touches to his big speech the following day.

‘Harriet won.’

There was no mistaking it – his face fell. There was a long pause. Then he put his hands on my shoulders, and said: ‘It will be all right. We’ll make it all right.’

Next morning, around ten, Tony phoned me, all agog to know who’d won.

‘I can’t tell you,’ I said, teasing.

‘Go on!’ he coaxed.

‘Oh OK. Harriet.’

There was a sharp intake of breath. ‘Oh well. Oh well,’ he said slowly, sounding heavily disappointed. It was obvious this was not the result he wanted." Worth reading the rest of it here.  And, once you've done that, there's this story in the Sunday Times, which highlights a new Institute for Government report containing testimony from 60 or so senior civil servants.  The words and phrases they use to describe the government: "weak," "lack of a single coherent strategy," "brute force," "barmy ideas," and so on and so on.  It's not a pretty picture.

Which just leaves one question: what explains the 10 point increase in Brown's personal poll ratings, mentioned in the Sunday Times story?  I imagine it's down to perceptions of an "embattled" PM remaining "resolute" in an atmopshere of rebellion and disgruntlement – but surely the effect won't hold out against this tidal swell of negative stories?  CoffeeHousers, your thoughts please.