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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Still grizzling in the background

An indication of how deeply old wounds run is provided in this morning's Independent, which reports that Gordon Brown has issued a thinly veiled swipe at Tony Blair as he hit out at politicians who fail to keep promises to step down from office after two terms.

Mr Brown's fury at his predecessor's decision not to step down for him ahead of the 2005 general election has been documented in a number of high-profile Labour memoirs.

And today he appeared to seize an unexpected chance to make clear his own view during a two-hour evidence session to the international development select committee.

It came as Tory MP Pauline Latham challenged him over what action he had taken over African leaders who served more than the two terms they promised.

"People make it clear, as I have, to some of these leaders that if they say something and then are not in a position to deliver it then their authority is affected by that," he said.

"But I think it is very difficult for us to impose a rule on African countries that we do not apply ourselves," a smiling Mr Brown told the committee.

He did not refer directly to Mr Blair - citing instead the example of Michael Bloomberg who had proved an excellent mayor of New York despite serving beyond his self-imposed two-term limit.

But few observers were in any doubt to whom his comments were directed as he continued: "It is difficult for us to say, when sometimes in our countries people serve long terms, that there should be a limit on the terms. The real issue is keeping promises."

Given that both politicians denied that there was any such rivalry and bitterness between them when they were in office, it is fascinating now to see it coming to the surface.

Update: just to prove that these sorts of tensions are not limited to the British Labour Party, the Financial Times has a similar story from the USA:

The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor.

Naturally the election came up in conversation. Trying to be even-handed and polite, the Brits said something diplomatic about McCain’s campaign, expecting Bush to express some warm words of support for the Republican candidate.

Not a chance. “I probably won’t even vote for the guy,” Bush told the group, according to two people present.“I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.”

Endorse Obama? Cue dumbfounded look from British officials, followed by some awkward remarks about the Washington weather. Even Gordon Brown’s poker face gave way to a flash of astonishment.

To be fair, this wasn’t completely unexpected. The degree of enmity between Bush and McCain — particularly following their legendarily dirty fight in the 2000 South Carolina primary — is hard to exaggerate.

Indeed Bush is far from kind to McCain in the parts of his new book that relate his “complex relationship” with the Arizona senator. I’ve yet to see a copy, so I don’t know whether he mentions how he voted. But it might be worth asking. He was certainly wavering.

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