The Rivals: The Intimate Story of a Political Marriage
A penetrating insider’s view of the most important relationship in modern politics, the one on which the recent reinvention of Britain is founded: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. By the celebrated Radio 4 Today Programme presenter James Naughtie.
No Prime Minister and Chancellor this century have been bound so closely together, each depending on the other’s strengths to repair weaknesses that might otherwise be politically fatal; yet theirs is a bond that crackles with suspicion and misunderstanding, lovers’ tiffs that send tremors through the government . The story of the current era can only properly be told through the prism of this strange union, and it has never been told before. James Naughtie is a unique insider. A hugely respected political commentator, he has equal access to both men, to their key courtiers, to the party malcontents and everyone who has ever sat in Cabinet with them. Not since Alan Clark’s Diaries has there been such a vivid, human portrait of the agonies and ecstasies of power in action. Even the supporting players are wildly dramatic: the saturnine plotting of Peter Mandelson, the muscled protection of Alistair Campbell, the Scots traditionalists facing down the Number 10 policy wonks. But the real drama is compressed into the central relationship. Here are Othello and Iago, Caesar and Brutus. This is a classic power play of our time, brilliantly, vividly and intimately staged by James Naughtie.
As James Naughtie reminds us in The Rivals, it's seven years since the fabled Islington dinner at which Tony Blair and Gordon Brown decided who was to succeed the late John Smith as Labour leader, and while it's a political union that has profitably endured, there are many, such as Naughtie, happy to ponder any marital itch. Though unauthorised, Naughtie, a presenter of Radio 4's flagship Today programme, has known both men for many years, and neatly summarises how the two young guns forged an early relationship years before power came to Labour. Familiar hotspots of the last government are entertainingly described, if lacking new revelation: the Brown/Cook feuds, Blair's near-adultery with the Liberal Democrats, Geoffrey Robinson's home loan to Peter Mandelson, his subsequent resignation, the Ecclestone affair, Blair's relationship with Clinton, Kosovo and, of course, the question of succession. Naughtie asserts that Blair has two goals: to win a referendum on the European single currency, and to secure a third term--as Prime Minister. Whether this will push Brown into a career outside politics is open to speculation, as his supporters are still of the opinion that Blair strongly intimated that he would hand over power mid-second-term.
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