Exclusive: Why didn’t Brown bring down Blair until September 2006?

The Slog pounces on a piece of murky illogic in the Brown/Blair succession story

The Sequence of events

Following the 2005 General Election, New Labour is desperately short of money. The Party is £26.2 million in debt, and Treasurer Jack Dromey is desperately worried. He becomes even more worried when told that a further £13M of debt has been dissolved thanks to illegal donations.

As a Brown supporter, in March 2006 he goes on TV without warning and says it’s outrageous….without permission, and clearly to stab Blair. Essentially, he points the finger at the Blair entourage of fundraisers.

We can assume that Brown has pushed Dromey towards this act of brazen politicking. (Tony Blair did).

Gordon expects this to be enough to force Blair out. But the PM rides it out: he decides the Chancellor has nothing but innuendo. In a rage, Gordon screams at the PM “I’ll bring you down with sleaze!”

But he doesn’t. This is a key point: it means that, effectively, Blair did not go in order to avoid facing donation-sleaze charges.

Chancellor Gordon Brown continues in pursuit of his ambition to oust the PM. Blair has on the one hand given his word long ago to Gordon that he will hand over power after two terms as PM; but on the other, Tony has told the media he will see out three terms. This is not unusual behaviour for Tony Blair: were human beings to have further upper-body limbs, there would be other hands all being promised exclusively to various interest groups.

As August progresses, Brown the self-proclaimed Greatest Ever Chancellor becomes more demanding: how is Operation Cake (the code-name for handover) proceeding, he keeps asking. The answers are vague. There are confrontations with the Prime Minister.

But a month later on September 1st, Blair is at an EU conference, refusing to discuss departure dates, making long-term summit plans – and still showing no signs of going. Government PPS Mahmoud resigns and junior defence minister Tom Watson does the same: both are doing so at Brown’s behest, to put further pressure on Blair.

Then, something happens. Nobody is really sure what, but it happens. Within days, Brown is in good form at a Party Conference planning meeting. Others are dismayed at what new Opposition Leader David Cameron is calling ‘a Government in meltdown’. But Brown smiles, asserting calmly, “Don’t worry – it won’t last long”.

A brooding pessimist by nature, here we are in early September with the Chancellor facing a seemingly immovable rival on the Throne. But he says only “it won’t last long”.

On September 6th, author Peter Watt finds Blair looking ‘old, grey and drained….it was obvious he was shell-shocked’.

The next day – to a staggered public – Prime Minister Tony Blair confirms that he is to stand down within twelve months. This will, he says, be his last Party Conference.

The Case for rigorous investigation

Analysing those events, it’s possible to make the following valid case for investigation:

1. Brown has earlier threatened to bring down Blair with sleaze….but this not only doesn’t happen, it has no effect on Blair.
2. It’s therefore reasonable to conclude that Blair had either covered his ‘sleazy’ tracks, or the allegations were false.
3. But then suddenly – two days after Tony is still giving signals that he’ll be around forever – he abruptly announces his retirement from UK politics.
4. It’s therefore also reasonable to assume that Gordon has, during that period, threatened to nuke Tony Blair with an extremely dirty bomb. This is supported by Brown’s calm attitude during a Sept 24th internal meeting.

Now lets rewind to July – two months earlier. Allegedly (a Slog source insists) Robin Cook the Iraq-war rebel tells ‘an MP colleague’ that he has uncovered “sickening evidence about Cabinet complicity in Dr Kelly’s death”. David Kelly was a senior civil servant weapons expert unmasked as the leaker of the dodgy-dossier evidence to the BBC. He was found dead in some woods soon afterwards on 17th July 2003.

As the Slog probes this further, there are hot denials in Westminster that Clare Short was the colleague. From Libdem sources, The Slog reaches the conclusion that the colleague was perhaps the Libdem MP Norman Baker.

Nobody (at least nobody prepared to talk – on the record or off) seems to know what Baker knows. But he has been driven ever since to get the facts of Blair’s unknown ‘war guilt’ out into the open.

Baker is a maverick – and not that well-liked. He voted ‘very strongly’ for an Iraq War investigation according to the website Theyworkforyou.com, but that would not be unusual in his Party. However, in late 2007 he published a book (and made a YouTube video) asserting that Dr David Kelly was murdered. Well-liked or not, he is regarded by many Libdem activists as ‘a beacon of truth in a murky world’.

Or, if you prefer, he’s a barmy conspiracy theorist.

He once expressed doubts about Robin Cook’s death. Soon after the tragedy, He said: “Robin Cook was on Ministry of Defence land, I believe, when he died and certainly I have doubts over what happened.”

Since that time, oddly, he has denied ever saying this – in an almost fearful way. Soon after the Chilcot Inquiry opened in November 2009, he took on the government to demand in the Commons that the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War should ‘hold Tony Blair to account for his role in leading Britain towards the war’. Foreign Secretary Miliband rebuffed Baker’s request….but Blair wound up appearing before the Inquiry.

Fascinatingly, Tony Blair has told one confidante on several occasions that he ‘detests’ Norman Baker, and another that he was ‘a thorn in his side’. He is also not best liked by the MI6 spin-off Hakluyt – a private investigation outfit run by former secret service retirees. The company was engaged (according to The Scotsman) in ‘the collapse of a high-profile libel action’, on which a gagging order was immediately slapped. “This is not the first odd occurrence to have Hakluyt’s grubby fingerprints on it” commented Baker at the time. He pressed Home Secretary Straw to have the investigated. Unsurprisingly, Black Jack demurred.

The Slog thinks it highly likely that, if nothing else, Baker has convinced Nick Clegg it would be politically beneficial to get Brown in front of Chilcot. There is also some evidence (not conclusive) that the Anyone But Gordon group across the Commons aisle are helping here and there.

Either way, Clegg has played a blinder in making that happen.

Why this is relevant to Chilcot

The Chilcot Inquiry now has a clear justification for following this line of inquiry, because:

1. Its remit is the conduct of and fallout from the War. If part of the fallout is we had a change of Prime Minister as a direct result of it, then we should know that.
2. If the man who bankrolled the war blackmailed its chief perpetrator out of office (by threatening to reveal his alleged criminal activity in pursuing it) then not only is that within the Inquiry’s remit: it would rank as the most heinous blackmailing of probably the worst crime in Prime Ministerial history – far outstripping Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate affair.

This has been The Slog’s line from the start of this affair: a case has been made, and the air needs to be cleared. The scenario is based on a carefully assembled timeline, examination of motive, analysis of previous behaviour, and four sources ranging across Parliament and Whitehall.
Before Channel Four and the Guardian run daft pieces saying I have no proof, let me pre-empt them: if I had the complete ticket on all this, I wouldn’t be writing long pieces about it, I’d be splashing the evidence.

A call to action

I do not say anyone is guilty of anything beyond the rough and tumble of politics between 2003 and 2006: I say only that there is a case to answer. The players have a right to clear their names, those involved have a duty to tell what they know….and as ever, the public has a justified interest in hearing a proper explanation, as opposed to nonsense that doesn’t add up being allowed to pass as evidence before the Chilcot Panel.

If ever there was a case for the Internet to insist on knowing the truth of this whole sordid business, then this one is it.

More anon.