The Truth

I told Tony Blair to sack Gordon Brown, says John Prescott .........

added 12/5/08

from The Times
Jonathan Oliver, Political Editor
May 11, 2008

John Prescott says he urged Tony Blair to sack Gordon Brown at the height of their frequent rows – but the former prime minister was “scared” of his chancellor.

He says he also urged Brown to resign and fight Blair from the back benches, but Brown, then chancellor, shrank from such a bold gamble.

Prescott, who as deputy prime minister for 10 years knew more than anyone about the furious resentment between the two men, reveals the true depth of their tempestuous relationship in his memoirs which are serialised exclusively today in The Sunday Times.

In the frankest and most rumbustious political memoirs for years, Prescott writes about his shame at failing the 11-plus, his lifelong inferiority complex and “problems with the English language”, and his remarkable rise from trade union firebrand to high office. But it is his role as witness to the raw anger of the Blair-Brown relationship that makes his testimony unique.

The first member of Blair’s cabinet to lift the lid on what really happened, he says that: — Blair reneged not once but several times on promises to make way for Brown at No 10.

— Prescott brokered “hundreds” of reconciliation meetings and telephone calls between them.

— Brown was “frustrating, annoying, bewildering and prickly”. He sulked so often during meetings that they had to be abandoned. On other occasions he could “go off like a bloody volcano”.

— Blair “doesn’t like the full-frontal approach. It puts him off his tea”.

— Brown held back government money from Blair’s pet projects so that he would have more to spend when he at last took over as prime minister.

— Cherie Blair thought the “longer Gordon suffered the better”.

— Prescott called Blair “a little sh*t” during an explosive row.

— Blair was “devastated” and near tears after his son Euan was found drunk in the street.

— Blair now wants to be president of the European Union or to have a similar “permanent statesman” role.

Despite his revelations, Prescott declares admiration for both Blair and Brown and reserves much of his venom for the “beautiful people” around them. Among the former advisers who are now key members of the Brown government, he singles out Ed Balls, the education secretary, and David Miliband, the foreign secretary.

Of Balls he writes: “He is clearly highly intelligent. But I can’t say I always agreed with his political judgment. He was part of the Gordon group, running around, spreading stories.” And Miliband was “one of the No 10 Mekons” – alluding to a big-brained alien dictator in the 1950s Eagle comic.

Prescott says that he first met Blair and Brown before they entered parliament in 1983. Brown was “dour”, while Blair was “fluttering around . . . a typical public schoolboy”.

He felt the tensions “stemmed from a deep and personal connection they had, with shared analysis and political insights. I remember once being at a meeting with them and Peter Mandelson. What struck me was how those three behaved like robots in a science-fiction movie in which they needed to download from each other”.

Prescott believes Brown had the impression that Blair had promised to leave halfway through the second term. “But as we got nearer the possible time for an announcement, things always seemed to come up to make Tony delay. It was vital to win the next election, then he would announce it. Gordon would complain, refuse to cooperate. Tony would give Gordon charge of our election strategy, on the understanding that he would keep supporting him till after the election. Then, after it, he’d promise to go. Only he didn’t.”

He continues: “As well as giving Gordon power and position to ensure his support, Tony’s other technique was to persuade him to back him on certain matters about which Gordon might have his own opinions – Europe, academies, foundation hospitals and future manifestos – and in return Tony would come out with the same old promise. He was definitely going in, er, six months, perhaps a year, certainly before the next election. When it never happened, Gordon was furious – and the whole cycle began again.

“Each of them tried to get me on his side, complaining about the other. Tony would say that Gordon wasn’t cooperating with him at all. Gordon would say he’d been cheated again. On one occasion Gordon wouldn’t let Tony see what was in his preparatory budget proposals. He even banned the Treasury from telling him. That was totally against tradition. The prime minister is always told in advance.”

Prescott says that once, when Brown “was even more furious than usual with Tony, I said to him, ‘If this is how you feel, that you’ve been misled once again, resign’. I think he thought about it, but it never came to that. He was aware of the possible consequences.

“With Tony, when he was moaning on about Gordon’s behaviour, I’d say, ‘Sack him. Find a new chancellor, if that’s how you really feel’. But neither could take the final step. They were caught in their own trap. Tony knew that sacking Gordon would tear the party apart.”

He adds: “I also think Tony was scared of Gordon. He didn’t want to take him on. Gordon is a very tough negotiator, doesn’t let things drop, keeps at something till he forces you into his point of view. That’s not Tony’s style. Gordon is a difficult character, but sometimes Tony exaggerated how difficult he had been, just to get sympathy.”

The rest of the article is here The Times