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