Blair/Brown leadership deal that “never was” – Adam Boulton


Comment at end

28th September, 2008


I was up in arms about Adam Boulton’s book extract which I wrote about here a week ago. Not just because he seemed to make insinuations against someone who, obviously, could not answer back, but because he seemed to have a strange semi-detached approach to his own wife on the whole business.


But, credit where it’s due. In this extract on the famous/infamous ‘leadership deal’ – known as The Granita Pact – Boulton is more circumspect.  Absolutely right. No-one, apart from the two men themselves (and even they may differ in the telling), really knows what was said, agreed, not said, not agreed … and neither of them is talking. Not yet, anyway.

More on Boulton later; Cherie first.

According to Cherie’s book (“Speaking for Myself”, pages 171/172) there was no pact. Her husband and the present prime minister did meet at the Granita restaurant, but a few days after they had already agreed that Brown would not stand.

Cherie (page 171): “As the week went on Tony clearly had the momentum and I was coming to the view that if Gordon wanted to stand he should just let him.”


(p 171) “… it was at Lyndsey’s house in Richmond Avenue … essentially it was agreed that Tony would stand unopposed and Gordon would be Chancellor; that they would work together and that Gordon would support him, and the aim would be to reform the Labour party and take power.”

(p 172) “It was always a given that they would work in tandem and that when Tony stood down, Gordon would take over. Tony also made it clear to Gordon that he had no intention of staying leader for ever and that when he did stand down he would support Gordon as his natural successor, assuming they worked well together as PM and Chancellor in the meantime.”

“As far as I know the timing was never discussed. But when Tony left for Lyndsey’s, I made my position perfectly clear, even if I framed it as a joke. ‘If you agree with Gordon that you’re going to do this for one term only, don’t come back home. Because that’s just ridiculous.‘”

Sky’s Adam Boulton says today:

“The usual version of events is that Blair and Brown met at a London restaurant to divvy up the party leadership and, beyond that, the premiership. Brown agreed to give Blair a clear run at the party, and in return Blair would at some point step down as PM in favour of Brown.

Yet that usual version is wrong.

Blair never gave any formal undertaking; Brown never offered to stand aside for him. “The deal” as it has come to be known, was never as clear as that. Only when you know this, can you understand why Blair and Brown’s cohabitation in Downing Street was quite so painful.”

Blair and Brown had been friends for more than 10 years, ever since they shared the same office as new MPs, and agreed they would never stand against each other.

Granita restaurant in 2003

[Pic: The former Granita restaurant in 2003]

Their common assumption had been that the leading figure in the relationship would be Brown. But now, it seems, Blair had begun to doubt Brown – not for his beliefs but for his lack of resolve.

Within weeks of John Smith’s death, many in the media had already elected Blair as Labour leader-in-waiting. Long before that dinner in Islington’s Granita restaurant, Blair and Brown were talking in Edinburgh.

Blair was explicit: as far as he was concerned their pact not to stand against each other remained, but he, Blair, was going to stand. Effectively, he told Brown he was the stronger candidate and demanded a clear run.

Not for the first or last time, Brown seems to have dithered. He had talked to friends and allies about running, but had not found the level of explicit support he expected.

Now if he ran he might be seen as disloyal or a splitter. Even worse, perhaps, Blair might defeat him.

At some point in the second half of May, Brown made the lonely decision that he was not going to stand.

Blair's Labour conference speech in 2006

[Pic: Blair’s conference speech in 2006]

On May 31 1994, Blair and Brown had their infamous dinner in Islington.

Since Brown had accepted that he would not stand (although he had not officially announced it) Blair was instinctively inclined to conciliate, and he still had high regard for Brown’s talents.

However, in placating Brown he ceded too much power to his future chancellor.

With hindsight, he may have wished Brown had stood against him. If there had been an open contest, it is difficult to see how the senses of entitlement and grievance could have taken such poisonous hold in Brown and his supporters.

Did Blair expressly state that the job could be Brown’s after a set period of time? That seems most unlikely, given Blair’s instinctive precision with words. But he may well have left Brown with the impression that he had been given some kind of assurance.

Twelve years later, Blair was making his valedictory speech to the Labour conference.

The prime minister went out of his way to praise his chancellor, but Blair also expressed deep frustration with his own time in power: “Every time I’ve ever introduced a reform in government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further.”

These remarks encapsulate the two sides of his working partnership with Brown. Throughout the 10 years, most in Downing Street regarded Brown as an obstacle to the policies with which they wished to transform Britain.

This is an edited extract from Tony’s Ten Years: Memories of the Blair Administration, by Adam Boulton, published by Simon & Schuster on October 6 at £17.99.


My thoughts: It looks like neither had enough of a killer instinct to really remove the other.

Sweet really. I’ve always suspected they loved each other.  Y’know … kind of … blood brothers.  Or perhaps they just couldn’t risk splattered blood all over New Labour’s face.

I’ve been on the internet too long – cynicism rising.

This extract from Boulton’s book, published at Sky on 23rd September, tells of Tony’s Tense decade with a simmering Gordon

Neither Brown nor Blair sought to kill off his rival, despite simmering tensions

During the first term, Blair’s supporters took a relaxed view of Brown, sometimes depicting him as a tragically deluded figure complete with “psychological flaws”.

A tongue-in-cheek short video titled Guide to the Real World for Tony, ‘the Prime Minister’, specially made for a private dinner to mark the end of Blair’s premiership in 2007, even had Alastair Campbell wearing glasses and assuming a cod Viennese accent, to give his diagnosis as “an expert in psychological flaws”. (Perhaps private recognition that, despite his denials, he had been the source of the notorious quote about Brown.)

But back in 2001, 9/11 had renewed Blair’s sense of purpose. It was from then on that Gordon Brown’s impatience mounted.

As Alexander Pope put it in another context, Brown appeared “willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike”.

Throughout the Ten Years, most in Downing Street regarded Brown as an obstacle to the policies with which they wished to transform Britain.

He came closest to open insurrection at the annual party conference in Bournemouth in 2003.

Gordon Brown

[Pic: Brown gives a speech in 2004]

The platform was already set for a turbulent week. It faced two difficult votes on health and housing which it could lose because of trade union unrest. Brown was in no mood to help Blair out. The Chancellor’s speech was an overt appeal to the sympathies of dissident Labour activists. As his refrain, he chose: ‘Best when we are Labour’.

There was no mention this time of New Labour. Instead, his slogan could only be taken as a calculated rebuff to Blair’s conference speech of the previous year when he had defended New Labour reforms with the catchphrase ‘At our best when at our boldest’.

In Bournemouth, Blair had no alternative but to retaliate. His leader’s speech the following day was one of his more melodramatic performances. He spoke surrounded by a live backdrop of supporters, earning a standing ovation shortly after he began by declaring: “I can only go one way. I’ve not got a reverse gear”.

Yet Brown’s simmering discontent never quite became white-hot. As Alexander Pope put it in another context, he appeared “willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike”.

Blair would complain about Brown and sometimes tease him to his face in front of Number 10 officials.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair

[Pic: Brown and Blair earlier this year]

He came to the rescue of Blair and Labour in 2005 by campaigning jointly with his rival in the run-up to the general election. It cannot have been too hard for Brown to make this decision in his own self-interest. Blair had by now already indicated that there would be a handover of power during the third term, but there would be no power to hand over unless Labour won the election.

The renewed partnership in 2005 resulted in some painfully stilted public performances by the two men, including Blair pursuing an unwilling Brown with an ice-cream cone he had just bought for him.

A party political broadcast, directed by the Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, was designed to show that the two could talk naturally to each other, but it had obviously taken so long to make that there was no attempt at continuity of clothes or location.

But if Brown never struck against Blair fatally, though, Blair never quite eliminated Brown either. He would complain about Gordon and even sometimes wind him up, teasing him to his face in front of Number 10 officials. But after the election in 2001 when he most probably had the political strength, and after 2005 when he almost certainly didn’t, Blair declined to move against Brown.

Plans may have been drawn up, but he made no serious attempt either to remove Brown as chancellor or to curb the power of the Treasury. Instead, to the deep frustration of many departmental ministers, Blair allowed Brown to keep his independent power base while trying to work around it by building alternative structures of his own.

ENDS article

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