Wed, Jun 20, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Cherie Blair urged Tony to sack Gordon Brown

INSIGHTS Interviews with Tony Blair's inner circle in a TV documentary shed light on the divisive relationship between the prime minister and the finance minister


Cherie Blair repeatedly urged her husband to sack Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, as she became incensed by his behavior toward the prime minister, a family friend of the Blairs has disclosed.

Barry Cox, who has known the couple for 30 years, said that while the relationship between Blair and his chancellor had been strained since the mid-1990s, the prime minister finally began to believe the worst of his successor during his final year in office.

These admissions are among a series made by people from Blair's inner circle that shed light on the divisive relationship that has dominated British politics for more than a decade.

In a documentary scheduled to be broadcast tonight, former Cabinet ministers, including Charles Clarke, Alan Milburn, Estelle Morris and Clare Short, speak more frankly than ever on the way the relationship between the prime minister and his chancellor affected the running of smooth government. And further insights are given by Blair's former director of policy Matthew Taylor, his former EU adviser Stephen Wall and Downing Street's ex-director of strategy Geoff Mulgan.

In interviews with the journalist Andrew Rawnsley, they tell how:

* Staff at No. 10 felt like "they were children in a dysfunctional relationship."

* Treasury officials believed it was "the kiss of death" to cooperate with No. 10.

* Blair regretted making a compromise with Brown over foundation hospitals in November 2003.

* The prime minister did not know on the day of the vote on tuition fees in 2004 if Brown's supporters would back him.

* Alan Milburn, his party chairman, regarded Blair's decision to preannounce his own resignation as "mad."

* Brown rejected an offer in 2001 to take Britain into the euro in return for the premiership, telling his Cabinet colleague Clare Short: "It's improper and anyway he breaks his word."

* Blair believed the problem with Alastair Campbell was that "he hated the media."

The documentary, The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair, also provides new details of the anxiety Cherie Blair felt about the damage being done to her husband, the anger she felt and the measures that she urged her husband to take.

Cox said the problems between the two men had begun in 1994 but "became truly difficult after the 2001 election" because Brown wanted "to be prime minister now."

He said: "I had a conversation with Cherie about how difficult Brown had become and was demanding he resign then. And ever since then, it has been continuous. Cherie reacted personally to what she regarded as Gordon's very bad behavior, she took deep mortal offense."

Cox also said that at one point Blair told him that he was planning to sack Brown. These insights are particularly informed; Cox has been on holiday with the Blairs and is not a party political figure with an axe to grind.

"Tony used to take the line, `Look, it's entirely legitimate for Gordon to want to be prime minister.' And he would try to be understanding about it and lay it off. But within the last year he did begin to believe the worst of Gordon Brown," Cox said in an interview.

Cox's claims about the bitterness between Blair and Brown are echoed by Matthew Taylor, a close adviser to the prime minister, who said staff at No. 10 felt like "they were children in a dysfunctional relationship where mum and dad are too busy arguing to ever talk to the kids."

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