Balls and Miliband respond

Shadow chancellor rejects claims that he "plotted" to oust Blair.

Keynes's rottweiler has come out fighting. In response to today's Telegraph splash, Ed Balls has rejected claims that the documents unearthed by the paper prove that he was "plotting" to oust Tony Blair.

He said:

The idea that these documents show there was a plot or an attempt to remove Tony Blair is just not true. It's not justified either by the documents themselves or by what was actually happening at the time. The fact is, after 2004, and then on, there was a discussion between Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and others, including myself, about how we managed that stable and orderly transition ... There is nothing here to justify the claim of a plot and, therefore, for me, that's obviously a bit frustrating today.

But there's a wider point here, I think Labour Party members and people in the country will look at this and say: why was it the case that there were these formal talks, why were there these discussions? The reality was Gordon Brown and Tony Blair had achieved great things together but by this period it was hard, the relationship was under stress, there was a lot of pressure, there were difficulties, there were arguments. I think people will look back and say that it could have been done better. I agree with that and there's a lesson here for us a party because we've got to make sure that at a time when jobs are under pressure, when the coalition is making mistakes, we as a Labour Party are united. That's what I'm determined to show.

Ed Miliband has also responded. The Labour leader tweeted: "Did round of i'views in my constituency. On Telegraph story, I told them- Blair/Brown era is over. Labour & country looking to future."

So far, the absence of a killer revelation means that the story has failed to excite the public. One wonders if, as in the case of expenses scandal, the Telegraph is saving the best till last.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.