UK Politics

Will Blair-Brown memos damage Labour?

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Media captionLeaked memos recall Blair and Brown's power battle

Tony Blair uses one line to explain how he feels about relations with his chancellor.

"The division at the top is killing us."

Gordon Brown uses three hand-written words to characterise the then prime minister's thoughts: "shallow", "inconsistent", "muddled".

The tensions at the centre of the Labour government are laid bare by its own protagonists.

But while the documents and the language are new, the story is very familiar.

The condition wearily described as the TB/GBs by Labour insiders was repeatedly diagnosed during the Blair years and has been analysed by countless commentators since.

The Conservatives say the documents matter because they place the current shadow chancellor Ed Balls, in whose former ministerial office the documents were left, at the heart of a plot against Tony Blair.

He cannot be trusted, they say, because he has insisted he played no part in the "insurgency" against the former prime minister.

One document, dated two months after the 2005 general election, appears to name Mr Balls, the current Labour leader Ed Miliband and the shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander as part of a "small group" assigned to run a leadership campaign.

It gives them tasks including handling policy, the media and supporters.

But Labour people say the Conservatives' argument is nonsense.

By the time these documents were written Tony Blair had indicated he would step aside. A change of leadership was coming, they argue, and Gordon Brown's team was making sure he was prepared.

That well-known Brown allies like Mr Balls, Mr Miliband and Mr Alexander were part of that team is no surprise, they say.

'GB 3D'

So Tony and Gordon disagreed then, Labour and the Conservatives disagree now - those who struggle to stay interested in politics could be forgiven for turning away.

But that could prove a mistake.

For journalists, there is the confirmation that they were right and the spin doctors wrong when the reporters insisted there was a volatile and sometimes ferocious relationship at the heart of the Blair government.

For satirists, there is the assurance that the political class does from time to time communicate in a way entirely alien to those beyond Westminster.

One document highlights research that shows people associated Gordon Brown not just with Volvos, but also with buffalos and beer, while David Cameron brought to mind big cats and alcopop drinks.

It suggested: "The new challenge is to achieve GB 3D potential without losing 'unspun'."

Whether Labour's image engineers ever managed to launch "GB 3D" is open to debate.

For the politicians, though, what matters is what penetrates into the public consciousness.

'Nasty party'

Labour's opponents would like voters to reflect on a long, misspelled note, shorn of punctuation and typed in capitals, which is explicit in its criticism of Mr Blair.

It says: "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 Telegraph identifies Gordon Brown as the author. "Renewal" was widely seen as code for persuading Mr Blair to stand aside.

This, some Conservatives would have you believe, is true Labour: red in politics, tooth and claw.

They would like to see the tag that once dogged them, the "nasty party", transferred to the opposition.

In short, they want voters to recall the bitter Blair/Brown splits when they see Mr Brown's former allies in government Ed Balls and Ed Miliband.

But will the public pay close attention to this story, and if they do, will they associate it with Labour's current leadership?

The answers may well depend on the content and the quantity of the documents the Telegraph has yet to publish.

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