Allies say Brown not behind the plot to oust Blair

SOMETHING'S BREWING: While Blair does peace diplomacy in the Middle East, speculation abounds at home regarding an alleged plot to oust him

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 6

Allies of Gordon Brown insisted on Sunday he was not behind the plot to overthrow Prime Minister Tony Blair despite revelations that the chancellor of the exchequer had been visited at his home in Scotland by a minister who was a key player in last week's attempted putsch.

Tom Watson, the Brownite junior defense minister forced to resign after signing a "Go now" letter to Blair, said he went to Brown's Fife home last weekend, shortly before the letter emerged.

No discussion

Both he and the chancellor said on Sunday there was no discussion of any plot to oust the prime minister, or about the letter that Watson signed.

"If they'd wanted to plot they would have used the telephone," one Brown ally said.

Watson has told friends that his family weekend at a golf hotel in nearby St Andrews was to make up for a spoiled summer holiday in Ireland and that the purpose of the brief visit to the Browns was to allow his wife, Siobhan, to deliver a present to baby Fraser Brown.

Apart from a brief chat between their spouses on early-learning policy, the couples "watched Postman Pat on a DVD and played with their [three] babies," Watson has told friends.

Brown denied plotting to overthrow Blair yesterday and said he would welcome a wide-ranging contest for the Labour leadership, only to find Blairites warning that his conversion to an "inclusive" style of government may have come too late to rescue his lifelong ambitions.

During his weekend tour of the Middle East, Blair responded to the chancellor's categorical denial that he had encouraged "rumors and speculation" by saying: "Of course, I accept the assurances that have been given."

Tension

But yesterday there was still tension between supporters of both men.

One senior minister accused Blairites of "a concerted attempt to destroy Gordon's character."

Brown used a pre-planned TV interview to present himself as a loyal and admiring ally of Blair's during nine successful years in power.

He went on to endorse many of Blair's controversial policies -- including Iraq and anti-terror legislation -- as well as his right to choose his own departure date.

The interview was recorded before the revelations about Watson's visit to his home, so Brown was unable to address that point directly, but he told Andrew Marr: "There were rumors, of course, about all sorts of things happening during the course of that week. If anybody had asked me about the contents of that [anti-Blair] letter I would have said it was completely ill-advised."