Page last updated at 21:19 GMT, Tuesday, 17 April 2007 22:19 UK

Brown comes out fighting

By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

No one on the Tory benches believed their vote of no confidence in Gordon Brown would get anything other than an overwhelming thumbs down.

Gordon Brown
Brown still looks set to succeed Tony Blair
If one thing is guaranteed to unite a divided and warring Labour party it is just such a Tory challenge to one of their big hitters.

So, with a huge government majority and even Mr Brown's worst Labour enemies determined not to give the Tories any succour, particularly in the run up to local elections, the outcome was always a foregone conclusion.

But that, of course, was not the Tories' point. The aim was to revive a 10-year-old row over pensions which, they believe, can tarnish the chancellor's record and undermine him even before he becomes prime minister, as still expected, in a few weeks' time.

The fact that, before this unusual motion was tabled, some of Mr Brown's Labour detractors were privately whipping up the controversy over the policy added to David Cameron's calculation he could do some real damage with this debate.

And there have been some signs that groups of pensioners do indeed have a bone to pick with Mr Brown over the policy which, they believe, has destroyed their pensions.

Ate my pension

The arguments have been well rehearsed over the past few weeks, even years, but shadow chancellor George Osborne was not going to let that stop him.

The "raid" on pension funds had been a con, had devastated the funds leaving Britain with the worst system in Europe and been done in the face of official advice warning him of the consequences, he told the Commons.

And the Conservative party went all out on this anti-Brown campaign, even producing a mock newspaper, imaginatively called The Moon, to hand out to rush hour commuters at train stations around the country, and declaring "Gordon Brown ate my pension".

George Osborne
Mr Osborne demanded an apology from chancellor
Back in the Commons, as Mr Osborne repeated his demand for an apology from the Chancellor, Mr Brown sat smiling, even laughing at his opposite number.

He said he relished the debate and needed to give the shadow chancellor "an education" in the facts because he had made some basic errors in his arguments.

In any case, the Tories had no plans to undo the changes he had made, he declared.

He did his best to play the big fist swatting aside the irritating gnat. And in the purely party political atmosphere generated by the nature of the debate, Labour MPs were delighted to weigh in behind their man.

So, at the end of the day, this debate has probably done little to damage Mr Brown's chances of succeeding Mr Blair - which had already taken a boost from David Miliband's insistence he would not be standing.

But it did give a glimpse of the sort of fights that lie ahead and the Tories will hope they inflicted a few stone chips on Mr Brown's new pre-leadership paint job.

Brown facing no-confidence debate
17 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Brown defends pensions decision
03 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Treasury pensions row escalates
02 Apr 07 |  UK Politics
Tories call for pensions inquiry
31 Mar 07 |  UK Politics

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