Reid emerges as Brown's unlikely nemesis

As pretty much everyone predicted, the local elections were a disaster for Labour. But few realised the extent to which Tony Blair would blame everyone except himself.

Even crazier, some of Blair's most fervent supporters are starting to emerge from his shadow. Take John 'Tankie' Reid. This old comrade got his nickname after he supported Russian tanks' invasion of Czechoslovakia, when we were students in the Communist Party.

It's said that Reid, like all good Stalinists, can start a fight in a room when he's the only one in it. His training tells him that when under attack, it is a good tactic to smear the enemy. And he is now branding as extreme left-wingers all those questioning Blair's right to stay.

When Gordon Brown famously decided not to challenge Blair for the leadership in the mid-1990s, it was largely down to concern about how such a contest would split the party. And Reid, as the new Home Secretary, knows very well that the Chancellor cannot afford to be seen as part of a 'coup' from the left this time.

Reid is a formidable opponent for his fellow Scot. There are few ideological differences - rather, their mutual dislike is founded in the mists of time. But Reid is part of a small group of cabinet members who meet weekly to support Blair's premiership.

And as other Blairites fall by the wayside, Reid is now being seriously considered as the man to stand against Brown for the leadership. The former Stirling University student certainly has plenty of cabinet experience, but would surely have to do much to soften his rottweiler image to be in contention.

When I criticised the Government on a TV interview recently, Reid later yelled across a crowded room that I was a f***ing c***.

From a PR point of view, Tankie is not the sort of chap who seeks advice, and only uses spin doctors to arrange his interviews. He is unlikely to agree to take part in an image makeover, and I suspect the message from his friends will be: don't stand yourself but back someone who really has a chance of beating Brown.

As we saw on Monday in his press conference, Blair is not about to go quietly, and even now claims a mandate from the British public to stay on for a 'full third term.'

Meanwhile, Reid spins tales of plots to get rid of Blair, stop reform and go back to Old Labour. All fighting talk of course, but that's old Tankie for you.

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