Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 16:12 UK

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

David Miliband
Mr Miliband's article has confused many at Westminster

A prime minister undermined by one of his most senior colleagues.

A power struggle at the top of government which divides the Labour party into opposing camps.

Policy announcements seen through the prism of the feud.

It could be the rivalry of the Brown-Blair years all over again.

Copycat coup?

People used to say about Gordon Brown's difficulties: "Well, at least he doesn't have a Gordon figure in the wings, plotting to undermine him as Tony Blair did."

Now it looks like Downing Street is having to contend with a rival source of power - not from Number 11 but over the road in King Charles Street, at the Foreign Office.

The plotters against Mr Brown may copy his game book too by mounting a coup in September before the party conference, just as Brown allies did two years ago against Tony Blair.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair
Flashback: Is it like Brown-Blair all over again?

The Brown-Blair feud provides the backdrop to what is happening now.

One former senior minister who maintains a radio silence in public spoke to me sardonically about Mr Brown, saying "some people thought it would be easy".

Another Blairite minister is annoyed that throughout the Blair years Mr Brown kept implying that things could only get better if he were in charge.

That pent-up resentment is being manifested in support for David Miliband now, though he can count on wider anti-Brown sentiment in the party too.

'Fibber or fool?'

So has the foreign secretary made a wise move?

I was interested in this email from one of our listeners. Mark Kenwright wrote: "David Miliband: fibber or fool? 1) Is the Guardian article a pitch for leadership? Yes/No (if No go to question 2)? 2) Did you not think/realise how the media would interpret the timing and content of your article? Yes/No? If yes return to question 1.

"If no: So, as far as David Miliband is concerned, you're not pitching for leadership and you didn't see this 'media storm' coming as a result of the content and timing of your article?

"It would seem then that it's a good thing you are not bucking for leadership because you are clearly still quite naive."

If you agree with question one, then the most likely explanation for Mr Miliband's move is that he wanted to make sure that he was positioned as the main challenger against Brown before other politicians gain momentum.

One MP told us that Mr Miliband lacks support among the trade unions and constituency parties who form a large part of the party's electorate.


The downside for this move is that instead of his hitherto rather genial political persona, Mr Miliband can be portrayed as a plotter.

In fact two Labour MPs made outspoken attacks on him on our programme this week.

Geraldine Smith said he was "trying to stir up trouble" and should get on with his job, adding that if he was sacked he would return to being a "nonentity" on the backbenches.

Bob Marshall-Andrews accused Mr Miliband of "pretty contemptible politics" and said his behaviour had been "duplicitous". He also called for the foreign secretary to be sacked.

That should make the coming reshuffle an interesting one. Tony Blair's ones were so botched that in the end his friends devised a board game to help him out.

Mr Brown's first was a model of ecumenism, promoting many Blairites. This time he will want a show of strength. If he keeps Mr Miliband in place, that could look weak.

An offer of a more junior job could provoke an explosive resignation. A move to the Treasury would give Mr Miliband an immense powerbase, as Mr Brown knows only too well.

I wonder if he will be moved to the Home Office? That is a place which has claimed the scalp of many a minister given how many damaging stories erupt out of the blue. Tempting to put a rival there, I would have thought.

Anyway, I shall be away on holiday for a couple of weeks and then look forward to a tumultuous political autumn.

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