By Patrick Wintour | The foreign secretary, David Miliband, warned yesterday that disloyalty to the prime minister would be fatal after a former Labour party fundraiser claimed that Tony Blair regarded Gordon Brown as a liar who has no chance of defeating David Cameron at the next general election.
The claims, made by Lord Levy in his autobiography, A Question of Honour, which is being serialised by the Mail on Sunday, were hotly denied by Blair’s office. But the allegations mirror past accounts the peer has given to friends of Blair’s attitude towards Brown. Levy has previously reported that Blair believed Brown could win only if he made significant changes, but doubted his capacity to do so.
In the serialised extracts, Levy claims Blair regarded Brown as dishonest in assuring him he had no role in organising the plotting that led to his enforced announcement in 2006 that he would step down as Labour leader the following year. “He kept saying that he had never realised how duplicitous Gordon was, and what ‘a liar’,” Levy writes. “I know he was convinced that Gordon saw the cash for peerages crisis as a further weapon in getting him out of Downing Street.”
Levy claims that party treasurer Jack Dromey’s sudden explosive attack on the use of loans to fund the 2005 election was part of an attempt by Brown to weaken Blair before a vote in the Commons on his education reforms.
He also contends that Brown played a major private role in party fundraising, attending fundraising functions as chancellor, but slipping away before the formal dinner. Levy suggests Brown’s then special adviser, Spencer Livermore, and probably Brown himself, were informed by email that the 2005 election was being funded by loans.
Levy also reports that Blair “told me on a number of occasions he was convinced Gordon ‘could never beat Cameron'”. He says the former prime minister felt he could have won a fourth term had he not stood down last summer.
“But Gordon? ‘He can’t defeat Cameron,’ Tony told me. Blair believed Cameron had major strengths: political timing, a winning personality and a natural ability to communicate to Middle England that Gordon would be unable to match,” Lord Levy adds.
The peer also discloses that he made recommendations about honours to those responsible for them at No 10 , but stresses he was never involved in the final selection meetings.
He recounts sections of the note made by Ruth Turner, Blair’s political aide, after a meeting between Levy and Turner on May 24 2006. The note, the police hoped, might lead to charges of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
In it, Turner said that while Levy had made “suggestions that several people would make good Labour peers”, Levy “did not put pressure, push or follow up on any of these suggestions. I will confirm what Michael says, that I did not tell him who was on the list until after the decision was taken by Tony Blair.”
With just three days until the local elections, No 10 is likely to be relieved Levy’s revelations were not more specific, though they raise questions about Brown’s character.
Faced by the peer’s allegations and two weekend opinion polls showing Labour trailing the Tories by more than 10%, Miliband, seen by many as a future leadership contender, urged the party to be more disciplined.
“This is a test of character really, as well as a test of policy for the Labour party. We know what’s fatal: if we fail to defend the leader, if we lose sight of our core convictions, if we don’t follow through on what we started.”
Endorsing the decision to offer compensation to voters who lost out from the 10p tax band’s abolition, he said it was vital that the party stayed close to the voters, and recognised they were being hit by rising petrol and food prices.
Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner and a close ally of Blair, insisted yesterday that Brown should remain Labour leader, but issued a thinly coded attack on the prime minister’s failure to provide a coherent message. “I think the party has got to [pull] itself together and refocus. It must make sure it presents itself, and what it stands for, in a way the public can understand,” he said.
In a reference to the way in which Brown appears to endorse political campaigns by rightwing newspapers, Mandelson warned: “Jumping on passing bandwagons, hobby horses or marginal issues is not the way, in my view, for any government to present itself if it is going to sustain its support in the country.”
He literally jumped up and down like a small kid who had been let out of school for the day, and shouted, laughing out loud, “I really did it. Can you believe it? I’m prime minister, I’m prime minister! I’m prime minister!”
Gordon was friendly, at least until I explained my mission. “Make up with Peter?” he hissed in an angry whisper. Then as his voice gradually rose from dispatch box volume to a near shout, he exclaimed: “Peter? He’s been going round telling everyone I am gay and I am not gay!”
The main worry was Tony, specifically gossip within Number 10, concerning visits Carole Caplin was making to Chequers to give an increasingly stressed prime minister long massages. When I went to see Tony, I told him there was a real danger that Carole could become an issue not just for Cherie but for you. Tony went bright red.