Brown: Blair is my friend

Gordon Brown today issued a gushing endorsement of Tony Blair’s premiership and insisted ‘he is my friend’.

In a Sky News interview to be broadcast this lunchtime, the chancellor said Mr Blair had been a “wonderful leader” and the relationship between them “has been on of the strongest political relationships in history”.

His comments come after Mr Brown yesterday received the support of former US president Bill Clinton for his bid to succeed Mr Blair at No 10. Mr Clinton also urged the two men to “just sort it out” and resolve their differences.

Mr Brown has been accused of plotting to oust the prime minister by orchestrating the unrest of the past few weeks, but has in the past few days used a series of interviews to demonstrate his loyalty.

Asked by Sky News if Mr Blair was his friend, the chancellor said: “Yes, and he will always be my friend.

“Friendships have ups and downs. I think people will look back on this political partnership and the relationship between me and the prime minister and say, well, it is completely unique.”

He continued: “I think Tony Blair has led the country with a tremendous amount of ability, skill, acumen and sensitivity to what the British people want to see done.

“In Northern Ireland he has brought greater peace than there was before and I think he will do even more in the next few months.”

Mr Brown told the TUC on Tuesday night that he would continue the prime minister’s reforms of public services – despite opposition from unions and many on the left of the Labour party – and he confirmed this today.

He also backed Mr Blair’s foreign policy stance, which has left many Labour MPs outraged, saying Britain’s support for the war on terror meant the country’s head “is held high around the world”.

Questioned about the so-called Granita deal in 1994 when he agreed not to challenge Mr Blair for the Labour leadership, Mr Brown said only: “I don’t think deals are anything that matter in politics.

“It’s what actually happens on the ground and what his achievements were.”

Yesterday education secretary Alan Johnson made a keynote speech on tackling poverty and the future direction of the Labour party. It was widely trailed as the launch of his leadership campaign, but he refused to confirm he would be running.

This confusion was contrasted by a clear endorsement for Mr Brown’s campaign by Mr Clinton, who said there was “no doubt” the chancellor would make a good prime minister.

“I have known him since 1990 and I think he’d be a good prime minister,” he told the Spectator magazine.

He added: “[The UK] has got a great economy, better growth than America has and less inequality than America.

“Gordon Brown has been a great chancellor of the exchequer. They just have to work this out. You can make too much of the politics and too little of the substance. The point is that New Labour has served the British people well.”