Scotland First: BLAIR V BROWN; I STILL STAYED LOYAL TO MY OLD FIFE PAL PM WON MY SUPPORT BUT as Tony and Gordon Went Head-to-Head for the Leadership Race, I Had to Make a Choice

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), February 23, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Scotland First: BLAIR V BROWN; I STILL STAYED LOYAL TO MY OLD FIFE PAL PM WON MY SUPPORT BUT as Tony and Gordon Went Head-to-Head for the Leadership Race, I Had to Make a Choice


Byline: Henry McLeish

McLeish On Blair

THE so-called Blair-Brown 'feud' has been a source of constant fascination, but I never got too stirred up about it.

Throughout a career in which I worked closely with both men, I never saw the need to choose between them although it is true I supported Tony for the leadership.

When John Smith died, the key difference between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was that Tony for good or ill was better and more effectively organised. He was quicker out of the traps and within days the succession was almost a fait accompli.

The day after John's funeral, A Blair aide phoned me and said: 'Tony would like your support.' Immediately, I replied: 'He's got it.'

I had not spoken to Brown, but it was clear that the Blair bandwagon was already rolling.

Gordon had impressive backing in the trade unions but had not even started rallying support in the party.

Whether Gordon wanted to stand or not, Tony was already in pole position and it was clear that a leadership contest between them would have been divisive. People forget that Tony has a ruthless streak when he is in pursuit of an objective in which he believes.

Of course there have been tensions, but that was natural between ambitious, bright, articulate politicians who cared deeply about the party and the need to be in government.

A lot of it was just gossip and a lot of it was stirred up by hangers-on who thought they were promoting the interests of Gordon or Tony but were only making mischief and doing damage to both men and to the Government.

Neil Kinnock picked out Blair and Brown because he had an eye to the future and he saw their prime ministerial qualities. Blair was more

obviously articulate and smart a great communicator with a good personality, dynamic and self-evidently a moderniser.

When I was No2to Blair on the shadow employment portfolio, there was no doubt Gordon was the senior partner.

I would work up the research and Tony was the ideal frontman.

When we had the ideas and the facts but were stuck for a press release, we would go into Gordon's office and he would ask one question: 'What's the issue here?'

Then he would attack his PC (he never just typed) and produce exactly what was needed. Then, it was down to Tony's presentation and it worked every time.

Even then it was obvious this was going to be a formidable Labour government team in the future.

Tony, in the eyes of many, had the benefit of not having any ideological baggage. He was a barrister, not rooted in socialism and trade unionism but connected to the broader Labour movement.

WITH his private school and Oxford education, he shared the characteristics of many prime ministers. On paper and in person he just looked right.

When he became leader, he said I was the most working-class member of his shadow team because I have never lost my roots but we were together on what needed to be done to save the Labour Party from itself.

To those who want to look behind the image, Tony is no lightweight.

One of his early positions was shadow employment secretary: crafting new legislation, a strategy to deal with rising unemployment and trade union reform. Although not seasoned in union matters, he had a grasp of the issues and an eye for detail and the law.

It was exciting to work with him, although I was inevitably in the back room, and it was obvious he was going places.

McLeish On Brown

GORDON BROWN, a son of the manse, is steeped in the history of Scottish politics and has a reputation for being able to connect any audience, especially at conferences, with the traditional roots of the party.

Because of this, and his strong links with the trade unions, some regard him as less of a moderniser than Tony Blair and this has figured recently in the speculation about who will be the next Labour prime minister.

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Scotland First: BLAIR V BROWN; I STILL STAYED LOYAL TO MY OLD FIFE PAL PM WON MY SUPPORT BUT as Tony and Gordon Went Head-to-Head for the Leadership Race, I Had to Make a Choice
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