Brown is God’s gift to the Tories

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor There's daggers in men's smiles, says a line in Macbeth, a play about the assassination of a king by his successor in Scotland. It came to my mind as I saw the picture of Gordon Brown grinning after a meeting with Tony Blair when he thought the long-coveted crown was finally about to fall into his grasp.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

There's daggers in men's smiles, says a line in Macbeth, a play about the assassination of a king by his successor in Scotland. It came to my mind as I saw the picture of Gordon Brown grinning after a meeting with Tony Blair when he thought the long-coveted crown was finally about to fall into his grasp. Charles Clarke may have had a similar idea.

The image well and truly upset him, and caused him to say that Mr Brown had been "absolutely stupid". But the chancellor has since informed him and the nation that there was nothing sinister in it. One of his aides had been talking to him about "my new baby". The smile was nothing to do with politics, he stressed.

Similarly, when ex-defence minister Tom Watson met him at his Scottish home on Monday of last week there was no discussion, according to the chancellor, of the letter - originally signed by Mr Watson - that was to be sent to 10 Downing Street the next demanding Mr Blair's resignation. Mr Watson had just dropped in while on holiday, he explained, to give his new son a present.


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How could anyone seriously suppose that this meeting was part of a plot against Mr Blair, and that Mr Watson was conferring with the ringleader? Perish the thought.

But how odd that Mr Watson didn't even mention the letter to the chancellor. He didn't need to be top of the class to recognise that it would have profound consequences for his own career, and that if it led quickly to Mr Blair being ousted Mr Brown was likely to be the principal beneficiary.

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Mr Blair has publicly accepted Mr Brown's denial of involvement. But every ounce of common sense in his being must be screaming to him that the chancellor was in it up to his neck. He must privately agree with the assessment of one of his allies who said that "it might be possible that Brown knew nothing about it - and I suppose that might be a pig that just flew by my window". Did Mr Brown know everything that he needed to know about the attempt to drive Mr Blair from office? Is the Pope Catholic?

On Sunday, in his interview with Andrew Marr,

Mr Brown claimed to have no prior knowledge of

the letter, and stated that if consulted he would have said it was completely ill-advised. If he was in the loop - let alone the main figure in it - that was of course a very big

fib. Sadly, that is what many people expect of politicians.

And last week's shenanigans will have done nothing to improve the image of a few people in top government and Labour circles.

My favourite Brown line in all of this is his insistence that

it is for Mr Blair to decide on the timing of his departure. If that is true, what was last week's attempted coup all about?

If the chancellor really thinks that, then why has been

pressing the prime minister to go for several years? Officers of the Spanish Inquisition had a similar line of logic; it was for the victims of their torture to decide whether or not they recanted.

Mr Clarke has performed a potentially very useful service for his party with his strong criticisms of Mr Brown. Everything he said about the man was essentially true in my opinion, and many people in Labour circles have been going round Westminster for years saying much the same in private. The former home secretary has dragged it all out into the open, and it is up to his party to employ that development to its advantage.

Does it want Mr Blair to be succeeded by someone who can secure for it a fourth consecutive general election victory? If so, does it think Mr Brown is such a person? If it does, it may be woefully mistaken. A good exercise at such a moment is to ask yourself what your opponents would like you to do. The Tories always feared Mr Blair and never really got the measure of him. But they do not fear Mr Brown. They can't wait until he takes over. "Brown is a miserable Scot and God's gift to the Tories", one true-blue said to me yesterday, and I think that is a common attitude in his party.

Talking of Scots again, it seems to me that Shakespeare got it badly wrong about Macbeth. The "secret black and midnight hags" were actually three female hacks or reporters - like those sent to Norwich by the Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph to loosen Mr Clarke's tongue. The timing and manner of Duncan's death were for him to decide. And when Macbeth's representatives visited Macduff's castle in Fife (Mr Brown's fiefdom) it was to deliver a present for his son.

The overall conclusion is clear: Macbeth was innocent. So, of course, is Mr Brown.

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