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Orderly transitions

Nick Robinson | 09:43 UK time, Monday, 8 May 2006

The absence of trust. That's what's fuelling Labour's feuding. Gordon Brown and his supporters simply do not trust Tony Blair to arrange "a stable and orderly transition" (A-SOT) to the chancellor in the time needed to "renew" the party. Hence all the talk about the need for a public timetable.

This morning at his news conference the prime minister will seek to demolish the case for a timetable, arguing that it would be a gift to the Tories and Labour's enemies in the media. The Tories would present it as a "countdown to the end of New Labour" and some in the media as "only X days left for lame duck Blair". He will also, I suspect, try to be more conciliatory - reassuring his party that he backs Gordon to take over and sees the need for A-SOT.

It is perfectly possible that Tony Blair means what he says and will use the party conference, or his 10th anniversary in Number Ten, to announce his resignation and his backing for Gordon Brown. It's possible that his friends have to talk about staying on till 2008 to get that far.

It is equally possible that he doesn't trust Gordon Brown to continue his reforms, hopes that John Reid, or Alan Johnson, or even David Miliband may grow enough in their new roles to become plausible alternatives to Brown - who might shrink in popularity with the passage of time.

Of course if Blair and Brown were seen to be working together amicably and to the same agenda none of this would be a problem. There were ACAS-style talks between their two camps (led by Alastair Campbell and Ed Balls) at the beginning of the year. They ended when Charles Clarke was reported as talking about (he denies saying it) "a dual premiership". Ever since, the atmosphere between Blair & Brown has grown steadily worse.

If - and it's a big if - those talks can re-start and Gordon Brown looks happy, the much talked of letters calling for a timetable will probably never appear. If not, Labour MPs - whose survival, it's worth remembering, is at stake - may take matters into their own hands whatever they're told by Blair or Brown.


  • 1.
  • At 10:03 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Andy wrote:

Nick - When you get the honour of the first question today, how about completely confusing everyone in the room by asking something about policy instead of about the transition. The PM will be so expecting the "transition" question that you might trick him into an answer for once!

  • 2.
  • At 10:20 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Michele Fowler wrote:

The thought that comes to mind when reading that Tony Blair is backing Gordon Brown to succeed him is, "Would you buy a used car from this man, and if not, would you buy one from someone he recommends?" I think not.

I do not suppose one can dispute the fact that the party meets crises with "announcements" Such as the "announcement" that "all foreign nationals found guilty of an ipmrinsonable offense will be deported".

That one has quickly receded in the quagmire of inconvenient realities, but its purpose was to deflect attention away from Charles Clarke's problems.

I wonder if there will be any such "announcement" today at the PM's press conference regarding the leadership position - and if so, will it fair better as a tactical weapon?

I don't 'spose you feel like surprising Mr Blair by asking him a question about government policy rather than the internal workings of his party do you? It would get the conference off to an unexpected start.

No? Thought not!

  • 5.
  • At 10:40 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Rex wrote:

Blair really has a problem. In my days as a manager to make a considered opinion on anything we always had to weigh up the good against the bad i.e. make a list of the for/against.
So those for Blair:-
George Bush, John Prescott, Patricia Hewett, Alistair Cambell, doctors, single parents, illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, murderers, drug dealers, rich people seeking a title.
Those against:-
Gordon Brown, Charles Clarke, Jack Straw, a lot of his backbenchers, middle earners, pensioners, nurses, health workers, teachers, most trade unionists, motorists.

It doesn't look good for him!

Go quietly Tony!

  • 6.
  • At 10:47 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Daniel wrote:

Methinks that Tony Blair now regrets saying that he will stand down during his third term. What we are seeing is simply the arrogance of power.
Your question at the news conference should be "will he still stand down before the next election. Yes or No."

  • 7.
  • At 10:47 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Robert Jones wrote:

There is also the 'longer than Maggie' factor! This would be sometime in November 2008. Entirely feasible and worth commenting upon.

Bob Jones

  • 8.
  • At 10:49 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • SB wrote:

Probably a bit naive of me, but couldnt Tony just state to the press that those who need to know, do know when A-SOT will take place.

Would any MP be willing to put their hand up and say, in effect, " I'm not important enought to have been told" ?

  • 9.
  • At 10:49 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • giles wrote:

For me there will be a breach of trust if TB does NOT stay on.

He promised the electorate that he would serve a full third term.

Many people were reassured by this statement and voted for Labour in reliance upon it.

It would be a betrayal of his promise to the country if he does not stay on and complete his term. If he resigns early he must call an election early.

It should be as simple as that.

  • 10.
  • At 10:51 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Ed Morris wrote:


I found your points very interesting. Personally, I cannot believe that Blair and Brown cannot see that this is doing immense damage to Labour's reputation and ability to run government. What the PM does not want at this moment is internal fighting after the couple of weeks that they have had. It appears that the advisor's at number 10's strategy of 'just admit that it was a bad couple of weeks and it will ok' is wearing thin. It's all very well saying that but then to begin another week with bad headlines, well I am sure that a lot of the British people are getting tired of this circus act. The PM prides himself on the policies that they have set out in the manifesto that they were elected on, but that appears to have taken a back seat to this leadership question.

Anyway, does anyone actually like Gordon Brown? Can anyone actually stay awake through an entire Brown interview? I have to say I personally have not met anyone who has said 'Oh yes, I think Gordon Brown would solve all Labour's problems by becoming PM'. On the contrary, most people I have spoken to believe the opposite is true.

From Labour's point of view, I guess the old adage rings true about Blair 'Your damned if do and your damned if you don't!'.

  • 11.
  • At 10:55 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Steve Mead wrote:

Surely Tony Blair won't go before he equals Margaret Thatcher's long-service record as PM?
And does anyone know how the Blair to Brown transition will take place? By ballot? Or will we all wake up one day with a new PM?

Let's be fair to Gordon - would you trust the private, unwitnessed word of a man who publicly claimed Saddam had WMD he could deploy in 45 minutes?

Equally he promised after last year's General Election to listen more to the public but we've see little sign of this - unpopular measures continue to be forced through in increasingly perverse manufactured showdown's with the Lords.

Blair is now a hostage to fortune - all it needs is Prescott to force an election for Deputy Leader or Hoon and Straw to realise that they do in fact mind the humiliating and shameful way they have been treated and resign and Blair will seriously holed below the water line.

Looking at the way these two have been 'rewarded' for sharing the flak for the Iraq disaster who could possibly expect fairness or loyalty from this Prime Minister?

I laughed at weekend reports that some inside Downing Street have concluded the reason for the poor showing in last week's election is that the public 'love Tony and are cross he's going'.

The man's name is now poison - friends in Labour tell me they knock on doors with a sense of weariness not experienced since the General Elections of the 1980's.

They know they risk being hauled over the coals about Blair and that dampens the enthusiasm to campaign.

Blair clearly is a hinderence to Labour remaining in power at the next General Election and it's really, finally, time for him to go.

  • 13.
  • At 11:06 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Andrew Smith wrote:


I was very taken with the comments made on BBC yetserday by Tony Benn and Anthony Howard about Jack Straw's demise being prompted by a call to Blair from the White House.

Perhaps you could ask the PM who selects the cabinet?

  • 14.
  • At 11:07 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Paul B wrote:

I think the issue of trust is at the heart of all present problems around this government and the ruling of this country.
We don't trust them and they don't trusts us. No trust? What have you got left?

  • 15.
  • At 11:15 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

The events over the past days just expose the totally selfish way our discredited and jaded Prime Minister clings to power. His only supporters are those with self interest to nurture. Lets have a broad based leadership contest right now, and clear the desks before its too late.

  • 16.
  • At 11:17 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Josh wrote:

Steve: Labour leaders are chosen by elecoral college, thanks to Tony Benn. So there'll be a long, drawn out process, at the end of which we'll wake up with a new PM.

  • 17.
  • At 11:23 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Steve Heseltine wrote:

I will never, ever understand these people. Most of these "rebels" wouldn't be in the position to rebel if it weren't for the likes of Tony Blair getting Labour into power in the first place.

  • 18.
  • At 11:26 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Colin Forbes wrote:

This all just goes to show what a huge tactical error Tony Blair made that fateful day when he announced that he would not seek a fourth term. Ever since, government business and policy development has been stymied by the succession question. It doesn't help that Gordon Brown is depicted as 'psychologgically flawed' - though at times her certainly acts as though he is.
If Blair announces a timetable, his premiership will effectively be dead in the water from that point on - so he might as well go the next day. Blair's main problem is that his liklely successor is not made in his political mould - so is likely to undo much of the work that Blair has done. If Brown was going to continue Blairite policies, i suspect there would be no succession issue as such. Politics is a sad little game really, isn't it?

  • 19.
  • At 11:33 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Simon wrote:

I can accept that Blair does not want the opposition or media to take advantage of a known timetable. So the simple solution is to reach a private agreement with Brown over the timetable. If members of the Labour Party who supported Brown trusted that there was a secret transitional plan, they could be persauded to stop sniping, Brown could begin to prepare for the transition and Blair could keep the date hidden from anyone who would abuse the knowledge.

Of course, it is perfectly possible that Blair and Brown could not reach an agreement or, if they did, that it would be leaked quickly afterwards.

  • 20.
  • At 11:34 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Joe Jones wrote:

Nick, for years now I've been wishing that as soon as PMQs begins at midday on a Wednesday, the entire Opposition benches would just empty in protest at the PM's refusal to take the session seriously and do what it says - answer questions to the Prime Minister.

Do you think there might be a case for the assembled media to do something similar at his monthly press love-ins?

By the way, I've just heard the 11.30am news on Radio Five, in which the newsreader, presumably in error, referred to "Drowning Street" - how appropriate!

  • 21.
  • At 11:38 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • John Everett wrote:

Surely Mr Blair will stay on until he has served 1 day longer than Mrs Thatcher and then quit?

  • 22.
  • At 11:43 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Manjit wrote:

It's a tricky situation for Labour as a whole, because on one hand many in the party will be keen to get rid of Blair given the poor election results and policy direction. But does the Labour party really want Gordon Brown to become PM so early in the Parliament? There would be a number of problems i.e Brown was not elected as PM, the Scottish question, it will be difficult to sell Brown to middle England. Surely Labour people must understand that it will be difficult to sell Brown against Cameron? Would it not be better for Blair to stay until 2007 and then hand over to Brown!

I wonder if the brooding presences of Straw and Clarke might come back to haunt Blair sometime in the near future.

  • 23.
  • At 11:45 AM on 08 May 2006,
  • Mike Mounsey wrote:

You say that Gordon Brown's popularity may diminish in time - but I have to say that I have yet to meet anyone who would welcome his elevation to PM despite his achievements as Chancellor. It may be that he appears, to many of the electorate, to lack charisma; it may be that his appearance of dourness and 'prudence' are not endearing qualities; it may be that he is yet another Scot...but, at the moment, I would hazard a guess that not many people would find him an attractive alternative to the apparently 'effervescent' Cameron at the next election.

  • 24.
  • At 12:02 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Pancha Chandra wrote:

Whether Mr Blair will be able to ride this gigantic rebellious wave is open to question. But this man has resilient qualities and will not be dislodged easily. He has led the Labour Party with consummate skill and has brought the Labour Party out of the doldrums. Writing him off would be very foolish as he has very astute and charming qualities. He certainly is not dour: he has a spring in his step and a razor-sharp intellect which makes Brown pale in comparison. Brown does come across as boring though is a shrewd chancellor.

  • 25.
  • At 12:09 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Robert Carnegie wrote:

I still think that if Mr Blair hadn't promised a deadline for his departure, he'd have had a revolt by now, Brownite or other. Especially with an unpopular war on, a painful transition forced by back-bench MPs has only been avoided by offering a non-painful one in the future. If he'd announced a Thatcherite on-and-on he'd be political dead meat today.

What is "a stable and orderly transition" and why is it important? I suppose it would consist of Mr Blair running a Cabinet of ministers when then become mostly Mr Brown's first Cabinet a decent interval before Mr Brown has to call a General Election. That way, the electorate can see a continuity of competent operators around a not altogether known quality of Mr Brown as prime minister - just as it helped a lot when Labour in 1997 promised to follow the Tory economic plan. It would be crushing if Mr Brown failed to match the achievement in the top job of John Major, even having done fairly well for a long spell as Chancellor - beating Mr Major there.

This Cabinet is not that Cabinet, apparently. We wonder why. Perhaps Tony and the Tonyists have to start the war in Iran so that no Brownists are tainted with that. There is advantage in Mr Blair receiving as much of the tarnish that is inevitable for any government before handing over to a fairly clean Mr Brown, who really does have different views to Mr Blair but which will not necessarily please the left or right electorate any better. So a Brown-shaded Blair Cabinet may lie in the future and before the handover.

That is - assuming that Mr Blair's team wants there to be a good and long-lasting Brown government. Maybe they aren't looking past the end of Blair at all.

Or maybe the tally of government members as for Blair or for Brown is mistaken or misleading. They're all politicians, after all. Is there a potential leader they wouldn't follow if they had to? After all, the Tories have been doing that.

  • 26.
  • At 12:12 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • GregH wrote:

If a cabinet minister can only endure 13 days (?) of bad headlines before 'action' is required. How many days of bad press can the PM endure?

  • 27.
  • At 12:19 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Bernard from Horsham wrote:

......Tony Blair backing Gordon Brown as the next leader?? What a joke!. In the immortal words of John Mc'Enroe "Man... you cannot be serious!"

  • 28.
  • At 12:22 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Andrew Emmerson wrote:

I wish Blair would hurry up, and finally finish Democracy in the country, its already suffered alot with this labour governemnt.

Because make no mistake about it, once Blair simply hands power to Brown that is the end of democracy in this country.

  • 29.
  • At 12:25 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Shug wrote:

Are there any legal/ parliamentary grounds for asking that the resignation by an incumbent PM automatically invokes a general election? (I know it didn't happen with MT and John Major)
It might stop the internal back stabbing!

  • 30.
  • At 12:26 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • ali wrote:

Hi Nick

I was up all night watching the coverage of the elections and noticed you were in the studio with Jeremy and David, through the night. In the morning, when the reshuffle was announced, you also covered it - looking bright eyed, and freshly attired. Did you get any sleep?

My legal knowledge fails me at this moment (at every moment actually) but aren't BBC employees not covered by Working time regulations? If not, cant you rely on an implied term of your contract to require you to get at least SOME sleep (Johnstone v Bloomsbury AHA).

In case you wondered why i was up all night and all day, i was studying for my law exams!


  • 31.
  • At 12:27 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Tony wrote:

Nick, Perhaps you could ask TB to describe a 'stable and orderly transition' so that we'll know it when we see it or we'll know when it isn't happening. Given all of the discussion, speculation and questions of 'the transition' perhaps you'd like to suggest to him that what we're seeing NOW isn't a stable and orderly tranisition'?

  • 32.
  • At 12:27 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Simon Stephenson wrote:

For a long time I convinced myself that Tony Blair and his Party were living a double life for the benefit of the nation. That their obsession with spin, deceptive soundbites and ineffective gestures was something demanded by contemporary society, but which was a front that was quite seperate from the serious business of intelligent and objective policy-making.

I am, however, beginning to wonder if I have been wrong, and that populist superficiality is, in fact, all they are capable of.

  • 33.
  • At 12:33 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Carl Holden wrote:

Mr. Blair has now become the longest serving Labour prime minister in history and I do not see him going until he finally gets the hang of it.

  • 34.
  • At 12:45 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • David Phillips wrote:

Not that I'd ever see myself voting for Labour, but there is one thing for certain - I'm a whole lot less likely to vote for a Brown Government than a Blair one. Against David Cameron, I don't think he'd stand a chance. And whilst I'm no Labour voter, I certainly don't want to see the Tories in power again. Both Blair and Brown have had their time at the top. It's time for a new team now.

  • 35.
  • At 12:50 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Gary Winter wrote:

I know you have to justify your existence, Nick, but one gets tired of the relentless bigging-up of any Government difficulties. Blair may just have a point when he pleads with you take an occasional look at policies. Out here in the sticks, we have no idea whether this "feud" stuff is anything more than a media exaggeration of interpersonal differences of style and emphasis, but suddenly everyone feels entitles to have an opinion, however little they know! And it's your fault! Let the government get on with governing: if we don't like what they do, we can always chuck them out.

  • 36.
  • At 12:55 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Jonathan Kitchin wrote:

Peter Hain would make a better prime minister than any of the other contenders. He has the ability to communicate more effectively and unlike the rest of them is not ashamed of his past and why he joined the labour movement.

  • 37.
  • At 12:55 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Richard Stewart wrote:

Steve Heseltine in posted reply No.17 says he doesn't understand rebels bitting the hand that fed them. I think the term 'democracy' might help explain the situation better for him.

Getting elected is one thing, doing a good job is another. Those rebels see Blair doing them out of a job now.

  • 38.
  • At 12:57 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • David Simmons wrote:

Nick - I tried very hard to concentrate on Gordon Brown's interview yesterday (Sunday) in the Andrew Marr programme (drone, drone; jaw drops; intense hand movement) - but what I was absolutely astonished to deduce was the number of times he said - 'What we want to see/achieve...etc, etc..'
They've had NINE YEARS for goodness' sake - how much longer do we have to wait for actual achievements..??

  • 39.
  • At 01:02 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Gary Elsby Stoke-on-Trent wrote:

Nick, is there any chance you and the BBC political team could inform us when there will be an orderly transition from asking tittle tattle questions, to policy questions?

I know it's all good fun, but now Tony has said the new leader will need time to bed in, that means he's not going the distance.

So why not agree with him and the rest of the country and take his word for it.

Could you also ask him what his favourite colour is, because I really don't know, or care, for that matter but I do want my licence fee to mean something.


  • 40.
  • At 01:17 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Andrew McIlwrick wrote:

Forget A-SOT.

English voters - remember that Gordon Brown is A-SCOT !

  • 41.
  • At 01:18 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Nick Saint wrote:

Despite your infectious enthusiasm for politics, brilliantly conveyed on the telly, the masses are turning an (already) indifferent eye away from politics to things like Wayne's poorly foot (albeit crucial). How can politicians ever change a "am I bothered?" outlook, when the party in power spend so long bickering and brooding over when the PM will leave office. He just got voted in again 12 months ago - collectively get on with it! And they say the Tories never talk policy detail. Well am I bothered though?

  • 42.
  • At 01:28 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Peter Hayward wrote:

Blair is reticent about his stand down because he is waiting for a worthy successor to appear.

  • 43.
  • At 01:55 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Robin wrote:

Less than a month ago, Brown introduced his 10th Budget, and the pundits were unanimous that it would be his last. It was thought inconceivable that Brown would still be at No 11 next April; many people said it would be humiliating. No 10 did nothing to contradict this view.

A stable and orderly transition would have required Brown to have a big say in the reshuffle, to create a Cabinet that could stay in place through a change of leadership and provide continuity. Didn't happen. Brown won't want to work with Blair's new Cabinet, and another major reshuffle within months is hardly stable and orderly.

No wonder there's a lack of trust. Seems like once again Brown was led to believe he had an understanding and has been double-crossed.

  • 44.
  • At 03:09 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • RJ wrote:

ASOT backwards sounds like....

Freudian slip Nick?

  • 45.
  • At 07:52 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Richard O'shea wrote:

A suitably convoluted explanation of the machinations of politics. Meanwhile in the real world the system visibly falters in the face of a new dawn of its own making. I think its time for politicians to demonstrate their worth. They urge us to heed the new era while losing sight of the hear and now. The Cuckoos nest is empty.

  • 46.
  • At 10:49 PM on 08 May 2006,
  • Malcolm Williams wrote:

Nick, why didn't Tony Blair reshuffle Gordon last Friday when he had the chance? Gordon desperately needs to spend time in other Ministries / Departments to learn how they work. If he is shuffled two or three times over the next 3/4 years time will fly by and he will be better equipped to be a Prime Minister in waiting. Besides he is getting stale and broody as the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

  • 47.
  • At 07:27 PM on 10 May 2006,
  • Richard O'shea wrote:

Nick, ask him his interpretations on the tale of Damocles. Invite him to note than even Dionysius yeilded power. Watch him squirm!

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