UK Politics

Leaked memos: Ed Balls denies plot to oust Blair

Media captionEd Balls says there is no evidence to suggest there was a plot to oust Tony Blair

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has hit back over leaked memos detailing plans to have Gordon Brown succeed Tony Blair as prime minister from 2005.

Mr Balls said it was "not true" to say he and Mr Brown plotted to oust the PM.

Mr Blair said in 2004 he would not seek a fourth term and Mr Brown was widely expected to succeed him - he eventually did so in 2007.

Details of negotiations in personal papers belonging to Mr Balls have been leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

'Brutal' renewal

The newspaper has obtained more than 30 memos belonging to Mr Balls, then one of Mr Brown's closest advisers.

It also names current Labour leader Mr Miliband and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander as being involved in "Project Volvo" - an attempt by his allies to rebrand Mr Brown.

It was named after the car they believed voters most associated with Mr Brown - in contrast, they described his rival David Cameron as a "sports car".

The documents are believed to have disappeared from the Department for Education - Mr Balls' former department - during last year's general election. The Cabinet Office is looking into whether there were any "breaches of document security within government".

They disclose details of secret meetings, opinion polls on Mr Blair's policies and attempts to rebrand Mr Brown's image.

In one document, Mr Brown writes that "if we are to renew Labour, we will have to be as rigorous and as brutal as we were in the creation of New Labour".

The then chancellor also criticises Mr Blair's 2005 Labour conference speech, saying "all his talk" of Labour dominating the centre ground "is not about re-establishing Labour, but a self-promotion about his exceptionalism".

The papers include letters exchanged between Mr Blair and Mr Brown, which show them haggling over the terms of a handover of No 10.

Mr Blair said in 2004 he wanted to serve a full third term if he won the 2005 general election.

But one document, sent to him by Mr Brown, suggests the chancellor sought to replace him by the end of 2006.

He asked Mr Blair to agree to certain commitments, including: "I will make it clear at the 2006 conference it was my last; call for an immediate leadership election to be resolved by December."

Division 'killing us'

In February 2006, in response to Mr Brown's handover requests, Mr Blair wrote to his chancellor: "The division at the top is killing us."

He acknowledges, "You (understandably) want to end the uncertainty by me going now", but says it would be "corrosive" if Mr Brown was seen to be "disloyal" or "too eager to get his hands on the job".

Mr Blair says he will agree to the timetable for a handover that Mr Brown requested, but that in return he will need "full help and co-operation" on key reforms to the NHS, schools, welfare and energy.

On a copy of Mr Blair's letter he passed to Mr Balls, Mr Brown scribbled the words "shallow", "inconsistent" and "muddled".

Media captionLeaked memos recall Blair and Brown's power battle

Mr Balls told BBC Radio 4's World at One that discussions about the transition of power had started before the 2005 general election.

While Mr Blair had said publicly he would serve a full third term, privately he had agreed to go earlier, Mr Balls said, adding he had encouraged Mr Brown to speak out on wider issues like security in 2006 as part of the transition process.

The Daily Telegraph ran the leaked memos story under the headline "Revealed: Ed Balls and the 'brutal' plot to topple Blair".

But Mr Balls said: "The idea that that these documents show there was a plot or an attempt to remove Tony Blair is just not true.

"It's not justified either by the documents themselves or by what was actually happening at the time."

'Over-hyped'

He insisted there was "no nasty edge" to the communications between Mr Brown and Mr Blair, and that people like him were "trying to hold things together", not widen any divisions.

The relationship between Mr Blair and Mr Brown was "under stress" during the period and there were arguments, he said: "I think people will look back and say it could have been done better. I agree with that and there's a lesson there for us as a party."

Mr Miliband dismissed the Telegraph story as "an over-hyped version of ancient history".

"Frankly, the era of Blair and Brown is over... and this generation of politicians is not going to repeat the mistakes of Blair and Brown," he added.

But Conservative Party deputy chairman Michael Fallon said it showed Mr Balls and Mr Miliband could not be trusted.

He said: "While Britain's debt doubled, welfare spending spiralled out of control and education standards fell, they were obsessing about getting rid of the elected prime minister and putting Gordon Brown into position."

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