Special report about Labour party(from Guardian Unlimited)
The anger and hurt of Brown
'It's like an African coup. They waited until he was out of the country' - Brown aide
Kevin Maguire, Michael White and Larry Elliott in Washington
Saturday October 2, 2004
Gordon Brown yesterday masked his private hurt and bemusement over Tony Blair's announcement that he wanted to serve a full third term when he insisted in Washington that he was happily fulfilling his duties as chancellor at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund.
Although he saw the timing and manner of the prime minister's statement as a personal snub and deeply divisive act for the party, he brushed aside questions about the political furore at home, saying it was business as usual.
As Mr Blair returned to No 10 from hospital after a successful surgical procedure to correct his irregular heart rhythm, Mr Brown made a deliberate attempt to show that he was untroubled by events back in London.
He noted that he was in Washington to deal with important issues such as rising oil prices and financial help for poor countries. He made only a brief comment on Mr Blair.
"The thoughts of all of us must be the prime minister's health and well being.
"I'm very pleased to hear that his operation has gone well," he said ahead of a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrial nations.
Privately, however, the mood was darker. "I can't believe he's (Blair) done this," one of Mr Brown's aides said. "It's like an African coup. They waited until he was out of the country."
The chancellor was on a British Airways flight to Washington on Thursday as news broke in London of the prime minister's operation, his purchase of a £3.6m house and his intention to serve another full term as prime minister.
Mr Brown's political aides in London said it was unclear how sustainable Mr Blair's position now is. They suggested that what appeared to be an attack on the chancellor was a device for concealing the weakness of the prime minister.
They believe that the full-throated declaration of intent to serve a full third term stems from a need to "obscure" presentational problems over his latest health scare and the purchase of a multimillion pound London home which was about to be disclosed by the media.
They believe there is now a risk of factionalism within the Labour party.
Thursday night's three-pronged announcement - covering Mr Blair's health, career and £3.6m house purchase - left Labour MPs divided over the likelihood that he can seriously expect to serve a full five years.
The extraordinary 24 hours of high drama included Labour's 2,033-vote victory in the Hartlepool byelection which saw Michael Howard's Conservative candidate pushed into an ominous fourth place - itself brutal confirmation that the Tories are virtually without hope of winning the likely 2005 general election.
Peter Mandelson, Britain's EU commissioner and Mr Blair's chief Praetorian guardsman, insisted Mr Blair would serve a full term, "and he means full". That is the No 10 line.
Alan Milburn, a close ally of Mr Blair who has been put in charge in place of Mr Brown of the next general election campaign, also said that the prime minister would go on for another full term."I really don't know what it is that people don't understand about the word full. It is a very simple word. It has got one syllable, four letters and it means what it says. So we are not going to have any Labour leadership contest for at least five years or more."
After undergoing sedation during a catheter ablation at the Hammersmith hospital, a smiling prime minister told waiting reporters: "I'm absolutely fine, thanks. The hospital staff, the nurses, the doctors were brilliant."
Accompanied by his wife Cherie, he had arrived after breakfast and was not required to stay in overnight. Next week he still plans to go to Africa, leading an anti-poverty campaign.
Mr Brown was yesterday involved in a round of meetings in Washington, in which he proposed a four-point plan for coping with the recent surge in oil prices. After meeting the managing director of the IMF for breakfast, he appeared at a press conference for Commonwealth finance ministers, discussed the economic prospects of the Middle East and attended the regular meeting of the G7. He finished the day with two dinners - one with the Chinese finance minister and one with African finance leaders. "I'll have to watch my weight," he joked.
MPs still think the heavyweight chancellor's eventual succession is a foregone conclusion.
Tory warnings that No 10 may now try to stage a snap election in November found some echo among Labour MPs anxious that the Lib Dems will use the available time to nibble away at targeted marginal seats. Most MPs still expect a May or June election.
Lord Healey, the last Labour chancellor, pipped to the top job by Jim Callaghan in 1976, yesterday urged Mr Blair - the man he backed against Mr Brown in 1994 - to stand aside. "He would almost certainly be pushed out by his own supporters, as Maggie Thatcher was, if he tried to go on for a full five years."