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Wednesday, 11 March, 1998, 14:19 GMT
Gordon Brown: the bad boy in the playground
Gordon Brown was once widely tipped as a future leader of the Labour party, but after the death of leader John Smith in 1994 he stood aside from the contest, agreeing to give Tony Blair a clear run at the leadership. Rumours of 'bad blood' between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister over the party leadership re-surfaced in a recent biography of Mr Brown.

The BBC's Political Correspondent, Mark Mardell, assesses the man pulling the nation's purse-strings.

To those of us fascinated by political soap opera Gordon Brown must be the key character to watch. Like the bad boy in the playground he's always at the centre of every scrape, his poor relationship with the of the other most powerful people in this Government John Prescott, Robin Cook and Peter Mandleson are the stuff of legend.

All Chancellors are powerful but this one is at the centre of even more webs than most. The Prime Minister has given him a big role overseeing domestic policy and he will not easily give up the strategic role granted to him during the election. Doubtless it was this that prompted his friends to say that he was Prime Minister to Tony Blair's president. And that suggests his friends think he has the brains and the grasp while Tony has the glamour and glitz.

Moreover in a very traditional way Gordon has "his people". Those who've been loyal to him over the years are now ministers, even cabinet ministers, and many regard them, as, if not his clients, at least something of a private army. Mr Blair, never at ease with traditional labour practise, does not have "people" in quite the same way. Even the left, who aren't at home in the New Labour project, mutter that at least Gordon has "roots" and "believes in something".

So the recent brouhaha about his ambitions for the top job is most revealing. A pretty flattering biography states what wasn't news: that he thought that he should have become Labour leader when John Smith died and only backed down reluctantly, nursing bruised feelings because he felt that Tony Blair had broken an agreement that in such a contest his name should go forward, rather than Tony's.

Although it's unrealistic of Brown to think that he could have won, his aggravation is hardly surprising. He is steeped in "the movement". When our Prime Minister was strutting his stuff with college band Ugly Rumours, the future Chancellor was fighting a sophisticated battle against the establishment to prove a student could become rector of his university. While Tony read for the bar, Gordon was doing his doctorate on James Maxton an idealistic Clydeside MP from the Marxist ILP.

In one view he had paid his dues, Tony had sailed through. But what is really interesting is the way that Downing Street responded. The book was "unwise", "vanity publishing" and finally the chancellor had "psychological flaws". All off the record and undeniable, but not, I am told, unauthorised. In fact I'm told the row about the biography was an excuse. It had been decided to take Gordon down a peg or two, after the remarks about Blair being President. That Downing Street should engage in such a dangerous exercise must demonstrate Gordon's ambitions are taken seriously at the very highest level.


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