Will Brown find courage to end the soap?

Tony Blair referred to the ongoing feud with his Chancellor as a soap opera earlier this week, mainly because soaps are popular. Unfortunately splits at the heart of governments are not.

Of course I once had a minor part in this soap opera. Number 10 thought I was so nasty they had me down as both Mitchell brothers rolled into one. They believed I regularly briefed against the Prime Minister and would happily have hired the likes of EastEnders gangster Johnny to bump me off.

The truth was Gordon Brown didn't want me to attack Blair and so I didn't.

But relations have soured a great deal since then, mainly because Blair broke his promise to stand down.

When former ministers and Blair outriders Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers openly attacked Brown's budget last week, they were clearly not thinking about the damage this would do to Labour's May local election results.

The Chancellor was even more furious when he read in The Guardian that James Purnell, another pro-Blair MP, thought that he was sabotaging the local elections by not reintroducing the pensions bonus. It was only then that the Brownites hit back, referring to the Blairites as 'madmen'.

The media too are complicit in stirring up this battle for power. The Guardian's Patrick Wintour is a regular conduit for anti-Brown stories and was spotted lunching with Purnell and The Observer's Andrew Rawnsley just before he broke the story of 'senior Blair supporters' blaming Brown for - well, everything really. The Observer ran a remarkably similar story a few days later, including the call for Blair to name his retirement day, well into 2008.

Rawnsley famously wrote a stonking book about the relationship between Blair and Brown. Unfortunately much of it was complete fiction. The problem for Brown is that if he responds to the provocation, everyone calls on both men to 'grow up and patch up their differences'. The Independent recently went so far as to call Brown 'paranoid'.

We watch the growing spin with interest, but no matter what you read in the papers, and despite the PR exercises pretending that everything is back to normal, there is no possibility that these two formidable politicians will ever make up.

Labour MPs are now off on their long Easter vacation but they still hold the key to this power game. They can pull the plug on Blair quite easily but need someone to help them. If Brown is really as angry as his friends tell me, maybe he will finally summon the courage to bring this soap opera to an end.

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