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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Labour's latest show of unity
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Well, at least the launch of Labour's local election campaign proved they can stand being in the same room as each other.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair

We were being asked to believe the relationship between Tony and Gordon is as strong and mutually-admiring as it could possibly be.

Indeed if the sour attacks made on the media by deputy prime minister John Prescott and party chairman Ian McCartney were anything to go by, it is the media they can not bear to have in the same room.

It is the "damned media" (Prescott), "the scribblers, squeakers and snappers" (McCartney) who are being blamed for all the speculation over the rift between Mr Blair and Mr Brown.

It is not the two men allowing, if not openly sanctioning, backstage briefings against each other, or there being serious, public differences over core policies.

Most recently they have differed over pensions and only gaffer-taped over that rift on the eve of this event.

And it was nothing to do with the fact that Labour MPs and constituency parties are becoming increasingly frustrated over the lack of certainty over the prime minister's future intentions.

Tightly controlled

No, the message was, it is the media's fault. And the punishment was to ban reporters from asking any questions at the London docklands launch of the Labour local election campaign.

John Prescott
Prescott blasted the media
It was all faintly reminiscent of a bitter and accusatory press conference called by Neil Kinnock after he lost the 1992 general election.

Few would doubt Lord Kinnock had to put up with a lot from the media, particularly the right-wing sections of the press, and Labour learnt a lesson it has never forgotten.

One of the results has been the tight control over big Labour events such as this since 1992.

Mind you, if observers needed any reminding of how political partnerships can go sour then Tessa Jowell was there as a reminder.

She was at the unity show as an act of defiance to those (the media again) who have argued her husband, David Mills, and his relationship with Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, had blighted her career and barred her from launching the local election campaign.

Still, it was a risky choice for an event which was going to be examined as much through the prism of relationships as for details of the election campaign.

Loss of face

What is patently worrying Labour is that the continuing speculation over the leadership and the Blair-Brown relationship will damage their local elections performance and, as a result, further loosen the prime minister's grip on power.

Neil Kinnock
Kinnock suffered at hands of press

That is why the press was banned from asking any questions. Many of them would have been about exactly those taboo issues.

It may well be that, once again, Gordon Brown has adopted the line of least resistance and has bowed to the prime minister over the planned pensions reforms.

But, bearing in mind those reforms have a very long way to go before they are finalised, it is not exactly over yet.

Still, what this event displayed was both a recognition of the damage the continuing speculation is doing and a determination to combat it.

It is precisely what happened before the last general election, a campaign which saw the two men undertaking a joined-at-the-hip campaign.

And that was less than a year ago.



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