Magazine article The Spectator

The Labour Manifesto Paves the Way for a Gordon Brown Premiership

Magazine article The Spectator

The Labour Manifesto Paves the Way for a Gordon Brown Premiership

Article excerpt

It is now clear that the most important event of the 2005 general election took place before campaigning formally started, when Downing Street aides travelled to Scotland to broker a deal between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown over the Easter weekend. The settlement was reached on the Chancellor's terms, as Wednesday's Labour election manifesto suggested. Tony Blair has published three manifestos since 1997. This is the first in which the cover has not shown an exclusive picture of the Prime Minister. This year he is presented more as a member of a team.

The second result of the Easter Concordat was the emotionally harrowing party political broadcast shown to television viewers on Monday night. It was hard to watch the film of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair working happily together, made by the Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, without coming over ill. Minghella's film was a fraud on the British public, and its claim that the relationship between the two men could be compared to a 'marriage' was an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act. The two men hate each other and the assertion that they can work together is false, as the events of the last four years show. Gordon Brown claimed last week that Tony Blair was a 'trusted leader'. It is amazing that Brown is prepared to tell the British people to trust Tony Blair, while he himself has repeatedly refused to deny the assertion, made in Robert Peston's scrupulous book, that he routinely tells Tony Blair 'there is nothing you could tell me now that I could ever believe'. Minghella's broadcast was as fake as the 2001 manifesto pledge not to raise top-up fees, and in due course this wretched piece of deception will be regretted by all involved, most of all Minghella.

The third manifestation of the Easter Concordat has been the emergence of Brown's people at the heart of the election campaign, and the consequent downgrading of Tony Blair's allies. Ed Balls, the Chancellor's former Treasury aide, is the most important of the first group. Balls has a reputation - well founded or not I hesitate to say - for especially venomous briefings against the Prime Minister on behalf of the Chancellor. He is suddenly established as an ubiquitous presence.

The most astonishing moment of the election campaign to date came on Monday morning. Balls, suddenly finding himself on a party platform, took the opportunity to rubbish proposals for pensions reform put forward by the Leader of the House, Peter Hain. Balls, still in his mid-thirties, is technically just a prospective parliamentary candidate for the north-eastern constituency of Normanton. One would expect a measure of deference towards Peter Hain, a Cabinet minister nearly 20 years his senior. But he has been granted the authority to humiliate Hain publicly. He was only able to do this because he was speaking with the massive support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Balls's intervention shows where the power lies in the Labour party as the general election approaches. His remarks were not just a humiliation for Peter Hain, but for the rest of the Cabinet and for Tony Blair, who has lost control. The biggest loser is Alan Milburn, who formally retains the post of Labour party campaign chief. Milburn has now been let down twice by the Prime Minister. The first betrayal came three years ago, when he was health secretary. …

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