Time Is Running out for 'Premier' Brown; Gordon Brown Believes That Tony Blair Is Reneging on a Promise to Stand Down, Says Andrew Rawnsley. It's No Wonder the Chancellor Is So out of Sorts

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THE caricature of Gordon Brown, a damaging portrait that his supporters as much as his enemies have contrived to paint, is that he spends every night bashing his forehead on the wall of Number 10 and howling: "It's my turn." I don't think it's quite accurate to say that he is consumed with a lust to become Prime Minister.

Strutting the world stage has few allures for the son of the Manse. He famously loathes diplomatic schmoozing; he's not even much good at being polite to foreigners. The trippings and trappings that go with the premiership do not interest him.

What Mr Brown is truly obsessive about is power.

Even some of his best friends concede that the Chancellor is the control freak's control freak. His suggestion at the weekend that he will take meaningful paternity leave when "Prudence" is born is greeted with dry laughter by anyone who knows the workaholic Chancellor. He wants to be Prime Minister not for the sake of the title, but because only with that doorplate comes total command untrammelled by interference from such lesser mortals as Tony Blair.

What politicians refuse to say is often more revealing than what they do say. Mr Brown's studied silence about whether there was a succession bargain speaks volumes. Mr Blair has always and emphatically denied that there ever was such a deal, notably to the Evening Standard's Andrew Billen during the election campaign. The Chancellor's striking refusal to concur has only one explanation that makes much sense. He believes that Mr Blair privately pledged to hand over the leadership after two elections - and that Mr Blair is now reneging on the promise. The Chancellor cannot say this in public without openly accusing the Prime Minister of being a liar and a cheat. Rocky as their relationship may be at the moment, neither man can afford to go that ballistic.

This does assume that the succession would automatically fall to Gordon Brown.

One scenario is the unexpected emergency. Were Tony Blair to be knocked down by a bus, what would happen?

Fervent Blairites reply that the bus driver would be arrested for murder - and the identity of the driver would turn out to be a 50-year-old Scotsman long known to have nurtured a burning grudge against the Prime Minister.

In the event that there was a sudden vacancy at the very top in the immediate future, Mr Brown would not command the backing of a majority of the Cabinet. It is the burden of Chancellors to be greatly resented by ministers who run the spending departments. This natural and inevitable tension has been greatly aggravated by Mr Brown's habit of trampling over his colleagues like a bull elephant.

OF the present Cabinet, I expect he could rely on the support of Andrew Smith, his deputy at the Treasury, and Alistair Darling, whose Work and Pensions department is essentially an outpost of the Brown Empire. Margaret Beckett and Clare Short would, I guess, vote for him.

So might John Prescott, whom the Chancellor has been courting for some time. …


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