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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Big question behind Brown's record
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Gordon Brown may have become Britain's longest continuously serving chancellor in modern times - but will he follow the previous record holder, Lloyd George, and go on to become prime minister?

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair
Brown still wants top job
It is the question that has fascinated Westminster since virtually the day after the 1997 general election and which continues to grip it to this day.

It is even rumoured that Mr Brown and his once closest political friend, Tony Blair, have done a final, binding deal to ensure the smooth transfer of power at some point in the future, presumably after the next election.

It is only that new deal that has ensured a ceasefire in the near open warfare between No 10 and No 11 Downing Street over recent months.

If that is true, it comes after years of a deteriorating relationship between Mr Brown and the prime minister.

That has been the longest-running sub plot in British politics since 1997 and has always threatened to be the defining characteristic of the New Labour administrations.

In the dark days of opposition the relationship between the two men was extremely close and, along with arch spin doctor Peter Mandelson, they conceived and gave birth to the fledgling New Labour party - a fact many old Labour MPs have not forgotten.

Granita deal

But it was always a marriage of convenience. Blair had the TV personality and charisma to win elections - something the Labour Party had apparently forgotten how to do - while Brown had the analytical brain and confidence not to screw up the economy.

Chancellor Gordon Brown
Chancellor Gordon Brown has said he wants to tackle global poverty
And partly for just those reasons, Mr Brown stood aside to allow his friend to become Labour leader when John Smith died a decade ago.

Part of that deal was that Mr Brown would be made Chancellor and given unprecedented power over the economy.

Not a penny would be spent in Whitehall without Mr Brown's say so. And that meant virtually no government policy could be progressed without his say so either.

But there seems little doubt that Mr Brown believed there was a deal - either done over dinner in Granita restaurant or, at the very least, in spirit throughout all their planning - that he would take over, probably half way through the second New Labour government.

That was a huge concession by the prime minister and he has probably paid a price for it since.

Less damage

The resentment that burns inside Mr Brown at the prime minister's refusal to go is, on occasion, palpable.

With the prime minister in serious leadership trouble, he needs Mr Brown and his supporters on board.
No one does a front bench sulk quite like the chancellor when the occasion demands it.

There have been very public fallings out between the two men, recently when Mr Blair denied Mr Brown a seat on the party's ruling executive for example.

And it has long been said that Mr Brown keeps the prime minister in the dark over his budgets.

There was even talk that Mr Blair came close to removing Mr Brown from his job and sending him to the Foreign Officer where he could do less damage.

Too late

Mr Brown apparently threatened to go to the backbenches instead, where he would have been a huge, brooding threat.

Friends of the prime minister have even urged him to face the consequences and sack him.

It is all probably far too late for any of that. With the prime minister's leadership under the spotlight, he needs Mr Brown and his supporters on board.

And all the signs at the moment are that the "Brownies" are not about to strike, even after the disastrous local and European election results.

That has only added to the suspicion that Mr Brown has got his reassurances and that once Tony Blair has soaked up all the anti-government feelings in the country and then gone on to win the next election, he will finally give it all up.

Prime minister Gordon Brown would then re-focus his formidable skills and set his sights on breaking a few more records.

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14 Jun 04  |  Newsnight
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Where do Brown's ambitions lie?
05 Mar 04  |  Politics


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