Hasan Suroor

LONDON: Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s bid to rally the party ahead of Thursday’s local elections, seen as the first real test of his leadership, appeared to be unravelling after his predecessor, Tony Blair, was reported as saying that the Labour Party was unlikely to win under Mr. Brown’s watch.

The remarks, which created a stir in political circles, are contained in a book by Lord Levy, a close friend of Mr. Blair and the Labour Party’s main fundraiser during his tenure. He was arrested over the cash-for-honours scandal for allegedly promising peerage to rich donors.

Mr. Brown, who is struggling in opinion polls after a series of damaging policy flip-flops, came under more pressure as another Blair loyalist, Peter Mandelson, currently the European Union’s Trade Commissioner, took a swipe at him, saying the party needed to “pull itself together and refocus.”

“Jumping on passing bandwagons … is not the way, in my view, for any government to present itself if it is going to sustain its support in the country,” he said, alluding to Mr. Brown’s perceived habit of imitating populist Tory policies.

Lord Levy claims in his memoirs, A Question of Honour, that Mr. Blair told him “on a number of occasions that he was convinced Gordon could never beat Cameron. Blair believed [David] Cameron had major strengths — political timing, a winning personality and a natural ability that Gordon would be unable to match.”

Mr. Brown sought to put on a brave face, telling the BBC that he would not be ambushed by “gossip or rumour.”

“The issues ahead of us are more important than a few comments from one or two people,” he said. But the row caused sufficient alarm in the Labour Party for Foreign Secretary David Miliband to call for unity.