Opinion: Brown/Blair rift does no harm to ratings

The PR planning for this year's Labour Party Conference could hardly have been worse. To have The Sunday Times 'splash' on the leaked minutes of a top Government strategy meeting that had only taken place a few days before the Brighton gathering was one big disaster.

Even if the intriguing insight into the thinking of government spin doctors was not surprising, it was extremely embarrassing for Tony Blair. Here were top Whitehall communicators agreeing that the real problem with getting out their positive messages was Number 10. The only department that wasn't complaining was the Treasury and that's only because ever since day one of the New Labour government it has done its own thing.

Gordon Brown does not have to get permission from his next-door neighbour before making announcements and the Prime Minister certainly wasn't told about the Chancellor's interview with The Sunday Telegraph that got all the papers writing yet again about the Brown/Blair split. Number 10 was spitting blood at Brown's comment that 'I've got my job to do and he's got his job to do', even though he was just stating the obvious.

In the great media game of fuelling the longest-running soap opera in politics, this was seen as proof of the great rift. The Brown team had actually done its best to stop the paper from running this storyline, but astute political editor Patrick Hennessey was not to be budged. Why should he? The next day, Ed Balls, Brown's ex-economic adviser, wrote in The Guardian that Alan Milburn could get stuffed.

Well, that's not exactly what he wrote, but it's the only way it could be interpreted - and Ed knew it.

The scene was set for Brown's big speech and he didn't let his supporters down. He laid out his vision for the world at the same time as praising Blair. Even Peter Mandelson had to applaud, if only with his little finger. Blair's people were fuming. Here was Brown talking about 'trust' on the economy: 'You can trust me but not that bastard Blair' was the less-than-coded message.

David Hill's team will have been pulling their hair out, but does all this split stuff really matter? Probably not. The public aren't completely stupid and know there is very little difference between these two big beasts. What the voters care about is delivery and the economy.

Having the PM and Chancellor not getting on is not good political PR, but despite all Labour's problems, most polls show Blair and Brown are still a better bet than Howard and Letwin.

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