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How Bush and Blair plotted in secret to stop Brown

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Patrick Hennessy and Andrew Alderson

Tony Blair attempted to prolong his time as prime minister after he was warned that George W Bush’s US administration had “grave doubts” about Gordon Brown’s suitability to follow him into No10, well placed sources have revealed.

Mr Blair was told that President Bush and those around him would have ‘big problems’ working with Mr Brown

The White House warnings, which were reiterated by other leading US-based figures, played a key role in Mr Blair’s attempt to cling on to power until at least 2008, and to groom David Miliband as his successor, The Sunday Telegraph has been told.

Mr Blair hatched his plot to stay on longer than planned after being told that President Bush and those around him would have “big problems” working with Mr Brown.

Senior officials in the US administration sounded the alert after a meeting between Mr Brown and Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush’s secretary of state, in which Mr Brown “harangued” her over American policy on aid, development and Africa.

After the uncomfortable session, sources said she reported her misgivings to the White House, and they were sent on in turn to Mr Blair.

After taking the warnings on board, Mr Blair signalled his intention to stay on at No 10 until at least 2008, the year of the US election to choose a successor to Mr Bush.

However, he was forced to abandon this plan following a “coup” led by Mr Brown’s supporters. Mr Brown eventually became prime minister in June 2007 and pursued a foreign policy that was far more independent of America than Mr Blair’s had been.

The “understanding” between Mr Bush and Mr Blair was revealed to The Sunday Telegraph by well-placed Whitehall sources. However, the former prime minister’s spokesman last night denied that a “message” had been sent.

One source said: “This at last answers the question of why Tony Blair tried so hard to stay on: the Americans were far from happy about the imminent succession of Gordon Brown. They left him in no doubt about that.”

Mr Blair is to address this sequence of events in his keenly awaited memoir, A Journey, which will be published this week. However, ahead of publication, this newspaper has pieced together the central narrative of his final years in power.

The fact that Mr Blair acted on US warnings over his likely successor will dismay many in the Labour party who were deeply unhappy about Mr Blair’s readiness to back Mr Bush at all times, particularly over the decision to wage war with Iraq in 2003.

Following the meeting with Miss Rice, Mr Brown’s advisers were convinced that Mr Blair was starting to groom Mr Miliband, the then environment secretary, as his successor. They were particularly enraged when Mr Blair described Mr Miliband in an interview as “my Wayne Rooney”.

However, Mr Blair also played what Brown allies now see as a “double game”, warning the then chancellor that he needed to adopt a different attitude towards senior American politicians.

Mr Miliband, who failed to challenge Mr Brown for the top job in 2007, will this week step up his campaign to become Labour’s leader. He will tell a rally of 1,000 supporters in London tomorrow that under him the party would be a “living, breathing movement for change in every community”.

In the summer of 2006, Mr Blair’s trip to America was widely seen to be his US swansong. It included a meeting with Mr Bush in Washington. However, on his return his allies noticed a new-found determination to stay on at No 10. In the late summer he gave a notorious interview in which he denied any plan to leave office any time soon.

It was this, along with what was seen in Labour circles as an”unacceptable” refusal to condemn Israel for its attack on Lebanon, that sparked the coup that forced him to name his departure date.

A senior Labour source said: “After Condi Rice met Gordon for the first time she complained to the White House about the way he behaved. No 10 suddenly starting getting these messages from the White House that there were grave doubts about the desirability of Gordon taking over. It wasn’t just the White House either, it was other people based in the US, business leaders, people like that.”

Mr Blair is expected to use his book to launch a passionate justification of going to war with Iraq and to speak warmly of Mr Bush. He is likely also to spell out his regret that he did not move faster to reform public services in Britain, often in the face of opposition from Mr Brown.

As well as political disclosures, the Royal family is waiting with great interest to see what the former prime minister writes about his relationship with the Queen, Prince Philip, the Prince of Wales and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The Sunday Telegraph disclosed three years ago that, according to friends, the Queen had been left “exasperated and frustrated” at the legacy of Tony Blair’s decade in power.

The monarch had become “deeply concerned” by many of New Labour’s policies, in particular what she saw as Downing Street’s lack of understanding of countryside issues, her closest confidants reported.

However, Royal sources said this weekend that the Queen and Mr Blair had always had a good working relationship at their weekly private audiences and that he was always “charming” towards her.

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