- Nov 14, 2006
Cherie Blair: Gordon tried to drive Tony out but now he wants his help to win an election
Cherie Blair last night accused Gordon Brown of trying to drive her husband out of Number 10 - by "rattling the keys" of Downing Street above his head. She claimed Mr Brown, who was then Chancellor, attempted to force Tony Blair out of power as long ago as April 2004.
In two extraordinary interviews to coincide with the surprise early release of her autobiography, Mrs Blair laid bare the extent of the feud between the two men at the heart of Labour's most successful government. Despite lifting the lid on the men's arguments, Mrs Blair revealed the two are now talking - with the embattled Prime Minister taking advice from his predecessor on how to win the next election.
Best of enemies: Gordon Brown and
Cherie Blair at a party conference in 2004
But her comments are likely to anger Mr Brown, with whom she admits she has long had a tempestuous relationship. The 53-year-old lawyer said: "I thought he was putting too much pressure on Tony to leave when Tony wasn't ready." She also dramatically revealed that Mr Blair was preparing to quit before the 2005 General Election - but Mr Brown refused to implement his proposed shake-up of schools and hospitals.
The book threatens to embarrass the Prime Minister by opening old wounds within the Labour government. It comes as Mr Brown faces the most serious political crisis of his eight-month leadership in the wake of disastrous local election results at the beginning of the month.
In interviews and extracts from the memoirs, Speaking For Myself, Mrs Blair delivers an authoritative account of the reasons why her husband waited so long to stand down - a decision which strained his relationship with his Chancellor to breaking point. "There was no doubt in April 2004 with Gordon rattling the keys above us as to whether he was still an asset to the Labour party," she writes. "I was determined Tony was not going to resign and that he was going to win the next election."
She said Mr Blair - whom she compares to Winston Churchill - had suffered a 'crisis of confidence' over Iraq and feared that he had become an electoral liability.
But even as Mr Blair considered stepping down, Mr Brown refused to back his plans on city academies, foundation hospitals and pension reforms. Mrs Blair, who practices law as Cherie Booth QC, said: "Tony would have stood down, there is no question. Instead of which Tony felt he had no option but to stay on and fight for the things he believed in." The mother of four added: "Tony used to say in terms of ability that Gordon was way ahead of everyone.
"The irony is, if they'd only worked as closely as originally agreed, Gordon's chance would have come sooner." Elsewhere, Mrs Blair denies that her former "style guru" Carole Caplin is "dodgy", claiming: "She kept me thin." But she also admits that Miss Caplin signed a confidentiality agreement. Mrs Blair - who is understood to have received a substantial sum for her memoirs - also did little to dispel her reputation as a woman who watches the pennies closely.
Cherie Blair says her husband had made it clear to his predecessor that he wouldn't be leader forever She said she was furious with Mr Brown after he told Labour's first Cabinet meeting in 1997 not to take a 26 per cent pay rise. Mrs Blair - who said she had taken a pay cut when her husband became PM - revealed: "Tony told me as soon as he got back to the flat. I couldn't believe it as the Tories were taking it. It meant Tony would be earning less than William Hague.
"I remember sitting at the table at the kitchen at No 10 with my head in my hands and staring at the now completely redundant financial breakdown as Tony tried to calm me down, but I wouldn't be calmed down. "How dare Gordon do that? What did he know about financial commitments? He was a bachelor living on his own in a flat with a small mortgage."
She vehemently denied recent claims by Lord Levy, her husband's former chief fundraiser and close confidant, that Mr Blair does not believe his successor can beat David Cameron's Tories.
She said: "Lord Levy doesn't know anything. I know Tony thinks Gordon could win the election and I know that he has spoken to Gordon about how he could do that. Tony has given Gordon advice. He and Gordon talk to each other even now." And, despite their tensions, Mrs Blair said she takes no pleasure from Mr Brown's current difficulties - and is said to be dismayed by Labour's falling fortunes. The party is still reeling from its drubbing in the local elections and has this week fallen an enormous 26 points behind the Tories in the opinion polls.
At just 23 per cent, Labour's support is at its lowest ebb since political polling began in the 1930s. Mr Brown also faces the humiliating prospect of defeat in the Crewe by-election later this month - even though it has been a safe Labour seat for decades. Senior ministers are understood to be dismayed over attempts to mock Conservative candidate Edward Timpson for being a "toff". Mr Brown has been warned that launching a "class war" against the lawyer - the son of John Timpson, the founder of the key- cutting chain - on the campaign trail are backfiring.
Stephen Carter, Mr Brown's new strategy chief, is understood to have told his boss and senior ministers that class-based attacks on the Tories are turning voters off and should be abandoned.
The timing of the publication of Mrs Blair's autobiography came as a surprise, having originally been scheduled for the autumn. It is being published next week.
Sensation Cherie Blairs book
Is being serialized in the Sun