Brown saved by Iraq: Blair had decided to sack him
On Saturday, we had Tony Blair and George Bush in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, plus an assortment of gossipy extracts about how Campbell introduced Sven Goran Eriksson to Ulrika Jonsson and Blair’s fondness for olive oil on toast for breakfast.
The Blair-Bush stuff was not particularly interesting, and the Guardian chose to lead its front page with the story that Rupert Murdoch phoned Blair on 11 March 2003 to express his support. You can see why the anti-war, anti-Murdoch newspaper made that selection the week after the end of the anti-Murdoch module at the Leveson inquiry. Presumably Alan Rusbridger wanted to show Lord Justice Leveson a worked example of the confusion between news and comment.*
Tomorrow, however, we get to some real revelations, including that Blair had decided in January 2003 to sack Brown (actually, the Guardian put up a 4-minute audio of Campbell on Friday, but no one noticed). Campbell’s entry for 6 January:
I asked what he was going to do about his “friend next door”. “I’m going to sack him. I’ve come to a settled view that he has to go. There was a time when I could make the case that the tension was creative. But it has reached the point where it is destructive and it can’t go on.”
But Brown was saved by the Iraq war. Blair wanted to do it when it would be least expected, but realised that he would have to wait until after the invasion. But soon after the invasion, in March 2003, Blair’s position in the Parliamentary Labour Party became significantly weaker.
As it happens, Blair would probably always have been right in his later judgement that to have sacked Brown would have ended his time as Prime Minister sooner. As an alternative leader, Brown would have been more dangerous on the back benches. But, in any case, Brown’s sacking is one counterfactual that does not make sense: Blair could have done it only if the Iraq war had been seen as a success at home.
Update: Monday’s Guardian also has more on Blair and the press, including the reason why Blair was relaxed about Murdoch becoming more powerful: “TB’s general view was that we got nothing worse out of Murdoch than we did from anyone else.” And on the royal family.
*For example, Murdoch asked Blair to “speed up” the Iraq war. This was on 11 March, nine days before the invasion.Tagged in: alastair campbell, contemporary history, Gordon Brown, tony blair
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