Opinion: Brown bites tongue again for party unity

Divided parties don't win elections, do they? There could be no better example of a divided party than the split TV news screen last week showing the PM and Chancellor making simultaneous statements in different parts of the country.

Until now the obvious rift between the two most powerful men in British politics does not seem to have damaged their electoral chances, but the move by Gordon Brown last Sunday to call a truce is evidence that he, at least, is having doubts.

Most of the public are bemused about talks of war between Tony Blair and Brown, partly because there is no real evidence of differences on policy. More importantly, it is not something that directly affects their lives. Most think the Chancellor has done a good job running the economy and that Blair is a strong leader.

Last week had started with a Brown article in The Guardian that simply stated what the Chancellor thought should be in Labour's manifesto. This upset Number 10 because it looked like he was writing an alternative manifesto - hardly surprising given that he's been frozen out of writing the real one. Blair had just arrived back from holiday, reeling from criticism that he should have returned earlier because of the tsunami. Desperate to make a mark, he made the crazy decision to bring forward his monthly press conference to coincide with that of a long-planned speech by his neighbour. Brown was livid and failed to hide his displeasure at this act of sabotage. Inevitably, most of the media sided with him.

Brown knew a book on his relationship with Blair was about to be serialised in The Sunday Telegraph and the fallout would be explosive. All of the Chancellor's 'friends' were told to keep their heads down, and as soon as Blair denied last year's promise to stand down as leader, Brown made his peace move. The Chancellor made equally unconvincing statements to ITN and the BBC - but it worked.

Brown was right to act to defuse the row because most people and pundits simply think the pair should grow up and get on with the job. Many of his friends, however, think Brown would be wrong to trust the Labour leader again. The Chancellor's overriding belief in party unity prevented him from knifing Blair some time ago, and even had him unwisely advising the PM not to pre-announce his resignation.

The Chancellor has a very different political philosophy from Blair, as we shall see much more clearly after the election. That's when the real fun begins.

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