The ball’s back in Blair’s court

The ball’s back in Blair’s court

    Labour’s ping-pong continues as the PM’s aides say Brown is being “presumptuous”

On what will surely be the biggest day in British politics since the General Election Tony Blair is making his big conference speech in Brighton and the Tories will announce the result of their ballot on how Michael Howard’s replacement will be chosen.

In the immediate aftermath of Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday all seemed clear – the Chancellor was giving the Prime Minster the accolades and was using Blairite terminology to make the planned change-over at Number 10 as smooth as possible. But within a few hours the Blair-Brown relationship appeared to revert to normal – that is bad.

According to several papers this morning the Prime Minister’s camp began briefing against Brown and the word that was being used was “presumptuous”. According to Michael White in the Guardian “Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were again at odds last night over the timing of the “orderly transition” with the PM”s aides saying that in his speech today Blair will say “he has no intention of handing over the reins in the next 18 months, as the Brown camp wants.”

Peter Riddell in the Times notes “…just as the hard-core Brownites still fear that they will be double-crossed by Mr Blair who will want to stay on for longer to secure his “legacy”, so the zealous Blairites are watching out for any attempt by the Brownites to push out their man prematurely. Anyway, expect a reminder in today’s speech from Mr Blair that he is still very much in charge and has plenty which he still wants to achieve.”

All this has made Labour leadership punters nervous and the Brown price has eased a touch. As to when Tony Blair will go the after January 1 2008 option remains the strong favourite.

In the immediate aftermath of Brown’s speech William Hill put out a press release quoting odds of 14/1 against the Chancellor being Prime Minister at the start of next year’s Labour conference. Although Blair looks like staying much longer than that the price is quite tempting.

Tory Leadership
The events in Brighton will over-shadow the announcement of the result of the ballot on the Tory leadership rule changes. The general view is that if the Howard changes go through then David Davis’s prospects will be increased. He has many more MPs on his side and the parliamentary party will be the final arbiters. If it is left with the members then if the polls are correct Ken Clarke has a better chance – provided he comes in the top two in the MPs ballot.

Tory leadership betting has remained very light as punters wait for today’s news.

Mike Smithson

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