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Labor infighting flares despite Blair's promise to leave

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 9, 2006


LONDON - Bitter infighting flared in Tony Blair's Labor Party on Friday as a former Cabinet official criticized the prime minister's likely successor.

Blair tried to placate his party's restive lawmakers by promising Thursday to resign within a year, but the harsh comments by Charles Clarke, formerly Britain's top law and order official, demonstrated the fragility of the truce.

Blair and Treasury chief Gordon Brown, widely expected to be the next prime minister, appeared to have reached a private understanding on the handover of power. But a sharp attack on Brown by Clarke - a Blair ally until the prime minister fired him in May - made clear that the peaceful interval that party bigwigs had hoped for was unlikely to materialize.

Clarke harshly chastised Brown for the way he handled this week's party turmoil and said his succession as prime minister was not guaranteed. He said the grin on Brown's face as he emerged from Blair's 10 Downing St. office after handover talks with the prime minister had been provocative and poorly judged.

"A lot of people are very upset and cross about that. It was absolutely stupid," Clarke said.

Clarke said Brown also should have acted more decisively against eight junior government officials whose protest resignations on Wednesday forced Blair's announcement.

In comments to be published in today's editions of the Telegraph newspaper, Clarke said Brown is a "a very self-confident, intelligent, cultured politician," but difficult to work with.

Brown's allies have insisted that he was not behind the anti-Blair plotting.

Senior party figures have publicly backed Brown as the next Labor leader - and therefore prime minister - to try to prevent the eventual handover of power from highlighting intraparty divisions and throwing elections expected in 2009 to the Conservative Party.

British elections explained:

General elections to choose members of Parliament must be held at least every five years. The date of the election is not fixed, and the time is chosen by the governing party to maximize political advantage.

Although political parties are not registered or formally recognized in law, most candidates for election belong to one of the main parties. Since 1945 eight general elections have been won by the Conservative Party and six by the Labor Party.

The government is formed by the party with majority support in the House of Commons. By tradition, the queen appoints its leader as prime minister. As head of the government, the prime minister appoints about 100 ministers. About 20 ministers make up the Cabinet, the senior group making the major policy decisions. The second-largest party forms the official opposition, with its own leader and "shadow cabinet." The opposition has a duty to challenge government policies and to present an alternative program.

- TIMES RESEARCH

[Last modified September 9, 2006, 01:35:21]


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