The Observer: Blair told aide ‘Gordon will lose to Cameron’

Way back in December 2005 I wrote this:

Whenever someone intelligent seems to be behaving oddly, the hypothesis has to be that they know what they’re doing and that you simply haven’t figured it out. (Sometimes clever people do barmy things, but that’s not the best initial bet.)

So it is with Tony Blair and the Succession. If — as is widely believed — there is some kind of deal between him and Gordon Brown that the latter is the anointed successor, then Blair’s declared intention of serving “a full term” as Prime Minister seems bizarre. If he really wanted Brown to succeed and have a fighting chance of winning the next election, then there must be an orderly transition fairly soon (and certainly no more than 18 months from now). But this is not how Blair — steaming fanatically ahead with his reform-or-bust agenda — is behaving. Why?

Watching Brown in action this week as Adair Turner’s sensible report on the pensions crisis was published, an obvious thought occurred to me (I’m slow on the uptake, alas). It’s this: Blair doesn’t want Brown to succeed him, and he’s going to do everything in his power to stop him becoming leader!

What’s more, he’s right. If Labour goes into the next election with Brown facing David Cameron as the Tory leader, then they will lose.

Since then various people have pooh-poohed this analysis as the purest fantasy. So it’s really interesting to find this story in this morning’s Observer.

Gordon Brown’s leadership was in turmoil last night after claims that Tony Blair does not believe he is capable of beating David Cameron and winning the next election.

The humiliating charge from Blair’s former fundraiser and confidant Lord Levy came as Labour MPs pleaded for Brown to stay away from the campaign trail in this week’s critical London mayoral elections for fear of wrecking Ken Livingstone’s chances. Levy’s intervention will confirm fears that Brown is becoming an electoral liability.

Even though Blair last night issued a statement categorically denying the claims and insisting he did believe Labour could win under his successor, there was consternation in Downing Street.

In his memoirs, serialised today in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Levy writes that Blair ‘told me on a number of occasions he was convinced Gordon “could never beat Cameron”‘.

I can’t claim any special insight for my original analysis. Just common sense.