London, Dec. 4 (Reuters): According to political folklore, the current British government was set in a gentleman’s pact by two Opposition politicians at London’s Granita restaurant in 1994.
There, the story goes, then Labour party leadership aspirants Tony Blair and Gordon Brown agreed over a leisurely dinner to let the former run for the top job on the understanding he would one day relinquish it to the latter.
But has Prime Minister Blair — now enjoying a sixth year in power since the pair took Labour to electoral triumph in 1997 — reneged on his supposed vow to heir apparent Chancellor Brown'
Eight years on from the so-called “Granita deal”, that is the question behind a wave of corridor whispers that Britain’s two most powerful men are on the verge of irreparable split.
“The rumours are reaching a crescendo and I’m inclined to think there’s something in them this time round,” a senior Western diplomat, who knows both men, told Reuters.
Commentators on all sides are fanning the flames.
“It is now a question of when, rather than if, Tony Blair sacks Gordon Brown,” Right-wing columnist Peter Oborne bluntly predicted, saying “the most creative partnership” of UK politics had become “a duel to the death.”
Even Labour-friendly analysts, such as Andrew Rawnsley of the Left-wing Observer paper, also see trouble between Blair and his economic steward who formed the strongest political partnership in recent British history. “The relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has never been more crucial — and it has never been worse. “On a graph of their tempestuous ups and downs, the TB/GB index is now at an all-time low,” he wrote recently.
“Those in a position to know tell me that the two largest figures in the government, the axis which has always turned the wheels of New Labour, are not really conversing at all these days,” added Rawnsley, who has tracked the pair closely. So, if there is truth in that, what went wrong' Whether or not Brown, the dour son of a Scottish clergyman, is truly resentful that Blair, an Oxford-educated barrister, shows no sign of stepping aside for him is impossible to tell.
Beyond personal dynamics, there are plenty of policy issues potentially dividing Blair and Brown — starting with the possibility of British entry to Europe’s euro currency.