Emails showing how Tony Blair's aides sought to counter what they viewed as Gordon Brown's coup to secure power at Number 10 have emerged. The messages detail how Blair's core team tried to avoid declaring when he would step down as prime minister, 15 months after he had been voted to serve a third term in power, to make way for Brown's apparent succession.
The emails cover 21 August 2006 to 8 September 2006, and show how figures from Number 10 and Labour attempt to deal with increasing pressure for clarity on Blair's future. Ben Wegg-Prosser, former director of strategic communications in Number 10, is the source of the messages, which have been published by the Guardian.
The content includes discussions on which MPs could support Blair's cause, statements drafted for the prime minister, briefings to the media and the apparent frustrations of Blair. There is also talk of finding candidates for a leadership contest with Brown, including the possibility of persuading David Miliband to stand.
One message attributed to Liz Lloyd, then-deputy chief of staff at Number 10, on 6 September states: "I still cannot get up the courage to tell him his country needs him." The emails have emerged on the eve of the publication of Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin by Damian McBride.
McBride was the former press secretary of Brown and is referred to as "Damian McPrickface" by Wegg-Prosser in the emails released. Writing for the Guardian, Wegg-Prosser said the manner of Blair's departure still "casts a shadow" over Labour.
He said: "The 'coup' of September 2006 was the culmination of 12 years of mutual frustration between the occupants of numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street. The constant ding-dongs served neither man well."
Wegg-Prosser added: "Looking back, the response from Team Blair to the letter-writing campaign to remove him from office was remarkably naive, coordinated through random email chains, conference calls and impromptu meetings.
"It is now clear that Team Brown were effectively running a disciplined war-room with battle plans and an agreed sequence of attack. That it should have come to this is profoundly depressing. It was also clear that Brown's team were convinced that the answer to every problem which Labour faced was that Blair should go. We, on the other hand, toyed with the idea of boosting other potential challengers to Brown. Curiously, whenever the issue was raised with the prime minister he was reluctant to engage."
Wegg-Prosser conceded: "The sheer emotional energy these scrapes consumed does not reflect well on any of the participants - me included. "Everyone who participated in them, from ministers, MPs, advisers and many more civil servants than is ever acknowledged, should reflect on what else could have been achieved if we weren't fighting."
McBride on Thursday tweeted a response to the messages, referencing characters from US crime drama The Wire. He wrote: "I love the No10 emails: I feel like (Jimmy) McNulty going through (Russell) Stringer Bell's apartment." McBride said it was "bad form" from Wegg-Prosser to leak an email written by current Conservative Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who was then a shadow minister.
Vaizey is described as a friend of Wegg-Prosser in the Guardian article. McBride added on his Twitter account: "I suppose the virtue of publishing old emails and diaries is it doesn't require any self-criticism from those whose egos prevent that."