UK Politics

Brown allies describe Blair criticism as 'one-sided'

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Media captionTony Blair: ''The relationship with Gordon was very, very difficult''

Allies of Gordon Brown have rallied behind the former prime minister, describing criticism of him by Tony Blair as "unfair" and "one-sided".

In his memoirs, Mr Blair said his successor was "maddening" and suggested Labour lost power because Mr Brown backed away from reforms he had begun.

Former deputy leader Lord Prescott said Mr Brown had faced the worst financial crisis in generations.

Two Labour leadership candidates also criticised Mr Blair's account.

Leadership hopeful Andy Burnham said the book's publication - on the same day that voting in the leadership contest began - was "unfortunate" and "saddened" him.

Mr Blair's book lays bare the tempestuous relationship between the two men between 1997 and 2007, when he was prime minister and Mr Brown was chancellor.

While acknowledging Mr Brown had been a "brilliant" operator at the Treasury, Mr Blair said he had put him under "relentless personal pressure" and sought to frustrate key reforms.

At one point, he suggests Mr Brown threatened to instigate an internal Labour inquiry into "cash for honours" allegations unless proposed changes to pensions policy were dropped.

Describing Mr Brown as a "strange guy" with "zero emotional intelligence", Mr Blair said he believed his time as prime minister was "never going to work".

'Tony's version'

Mr Brown has not commented on the book but senior Labour figures have rallied around Mr Brown and called for unity in the party amid concerns that tensions from the Blair-Brown years could spill over into the current leadership contest.

"Let's be very careful about this. This is a one-sided version," said Lord Prescott, deputy prime minister between 1997 and 2007.

"I hear Tony say we did not continue with the New Labour policies.

"I used to hear the arguments between them about foundation hospitals, about academies, about pensions.... Gordon continued those policies. He did not disown them."

During his time in office, Mr Brown was faced with an unprecedented global financial crisis which, Lord Prescott added, vindicated the former chancellor's opposition to joining the euro in the late 1990s.

"What we found in the two years he had - and it was a limited time - we had the worst economic crisis," he said.

"That was the disaster at this time. Somebody had to get the world bankers and countries together to defeat that crisis. Gordon did that. It wasn't New Labour or Old Labour. It was his intellectual ability."

Labour MP Michael Dugher - formerly a close aide of Mr Brown - said criticism of his personality was "slightly unkind and unfair" and the book neglected the fact that the public "had fallen out of love" with Tony Blair by 2007.

"People also forget, in 2005, particularly in the aftermath of the Iraq war, Tony Blair was quite unpopular in parts of the country and the party," he said. "And Gordon Brown played a very significant role in the 2005 election victory."

'Creative tension'

Tessa Jowell, who served in Cabinet under both Mr Blair and Mr Brown, said their relationship "never quite recovered" from an "attempted coup" against Mr Blair in May 2006 which was said at the time to have been led by allies of Mr Brown.

However, she said people needed to consider the bigger picture of what Labour achieved in office.

"When they worked together, they were two of the most creative politicians of our lifetimes and they created benefit for the country in doing that," she told the BBC. "The relationship had its highs and very many lows but I think history will judge this period of one where the country did get better."

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett said it was a "great sadness" that the once "close" relationship between the two men had "disintegrated into acrimony and recrimination".

"The two of them working together at their best were a phenomenal force for good," he told Sky News.

'Past battles'

The book - which booksellers Waterstone's said was the fastest-selling political autobiography in publishing history - was published on the same day that Labour Party members and trade union activists received ballot papers to elect a new leader.

The outcome of the contest will be announced on 25 September.

While not publicly endorsing a candidate, Mr Blair is believed to favour frontrunner David Miliband and said Labour will only regain power by returning to the New Labour policies which characterised his time in office.

Former Health Secretary Andy Burnham said Mr Brown had been "badly treated" by the media and many within Labour and said, under Mr Blair, New Labour had become "hollow and disconnected with the public".

"It really saddens me that battles of the past are being brought to bear on this leadership election," he told the BBC News Channel.

Another leadership hopeful Diane Abbott accused Mr Blair of "putting the knife" into his successor and said the intervention was "not helpful to the party at this point".

You can watch Tony Blair's interview with Andrew Marr on BBC Two on Wednesday 1 September at 1900 BST.

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