Tony Blair: My Part In His Downfall


Last updated at 19:16 08 September 2007

I recently received a call from Dr Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College and a man with an impressive pedigree of writing about politics.

Dr Seldon is penning a new biography of Tony Blair and wanted to know about a story I had in the spring of last year concerning relations between Mr Blair and Gordon Brown.

In a funny way, I had been expecting the call.

The article attracted little public comment at the time, yet I was dimly aware that it led to extraordinary repercussions in Downing Street and to a series of unexpected consequences that shaped events leading up to Mr Blair's departure.

In this, my last column for The Mail on Sunday, please indulge me while I explain my part in Tony Blair's downfall.

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blair wave leaving downing

At the time, Blair and Brown were involved in extremely delicate - and secret - 'transition talks' about the date of Blair's departure.

Blair's team was led by his former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and polling guru Philip Gould. Brown's envoys were his advisers Ed Balls and Ed Miliband.

Blair was in no mood to go and wanted to attend the 2008 Beijing Games, where he would bow out after receiving the Olympic torch on behalf of Britain. Brown was desperate to prise him out.

Blair's tactic was to keep Brown at bay by holding out the prospect of bringing forward his exit date in return for Brown agreeing to a number of conditions.

These included a commitment to retain key Blairite policies. And there must be no going back on Iraq.

Certain Blair Cabinet cronies also had to be retained. Incredibly, there was even talk of Brown agreeing to bring back Blairite favourites such as Stephen Byers, one of Brown's most hated foes.

All this was discussed during a number of bad-tempered and distrustful meetings held in deep secrecy.

That was until I wrote a column headed: 'Blair away with the fairies ... and the men in white coats are coming.'

I reported that Campbell and Gould had said that Blair had a deep 'psychological problem' about leaving Downing Street and giving up power. The response from Blair was furious. He ordered that the transition talks should end immediately.

He was deeply hurt by the disparaging way his rationale had been described by supposed friends.

An incandescent Campbell accused Brown of treachery. All hope of a smooth transition disappeared and relations went into deep freeze.

I should add that I did not learn of the full extent of the impact of my article for some time. But, in hindsight, subsequent events make a great deal more sense.

In the run-up to last year's party conference, Blair lobbed another grenade towards his Chancellor by announcing he had 'some years to go' as Prime Minister.

In fact, it only hastened his departure. While on holiday, I was telephoned to be told Ministers were resigning in protest against Blair's Thatcher-like vow to go on and on.

Brown's cronies responded by attempting a coup, one which did not ignite but left Blair fatally wounded.

Brown's barbarians were at the No 10 door forcing the incumbent to announce that he would go in less than a year.

So how did my article change New Labour history?

Well, we just might still have Tony - and Cherie - in No10. Before my revelation about his 'psychological problem' with leaving office, he was intent on hanging on for two years, not one.

If the talks had carried on it would have provided more time for a Blairite leadership candidate to gain a foothold and, just possibly, stop Brown becoming PM - another of Blair's reasons for stalling.

Even in No10, Brown might have been forced to agree to give jobs to Blairite loyalists who would have fought to stop any diluting of the former Prime Minister's legacy.

NONE of that has happened. Unencumbered by promises to his predecessor, Brown has been able to ditch plans for a super casino. Today he is perceived as the man who is going to get us out of the Blairmade mess of Iraq. There are no Blair cuckoos in the Cabinet nest.

It has been a rosy start to his premiership, free of baggage from the past.

Forgive my own trumpet-blowing in telling this story. Usually the weighty words of us scribes go no further than the local recycling bin. This time, they were far-reaching.

So it was that my 800-odd word disclosure has become a footnote in recent political history which I share with you, and Dr Seldon, in this my final column.

It has been 11 years of writing about everything from the family labrador to the behaviour of the not so great and good.

Your response has varied from vitriol to gratitude. The column has made folk laugh and occasionally shed a tear.

Writing it has been truly fun and a great privilege.

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