WHEN I saw the headlines saying: “Prime Minister's Speech Endorses Brown As Successor” I was delighted that Tony Blair had at last done the decent thing and told everyone that Gordon Brown was his choice as the prime minister to follow him. So I turned to the detailed reports of the debate in the Commons on the Queen's speech to discover what precise form of words Mr Blair had used at this important moment. At first I could not find the reference but eventually realised that it was this, spoken in the course of a Punch-and-Judy exchange with David Cameron: “The next election will be a flyweight versus a heavyweight. And however much you may dance about the ring, at some point you'll come within the reach of a big clunking fist.” Apparently, as Mr Blair sat down, Gordon Brown enthusiastically clapped him on his back in acknowledgement of the commitment just made by the prime minister. But was he right to do so? Had he understood Mr Blair's message correctly? Surely it could just as well have been read as a heavy hint that John Prescott is the man for the prime minister's job? After all, the deputy prime minister is the only member of the cabinet known to have used his fists when he delivered a well-directed left-hand punch at a heckler during the 2001 election campaign. Mr Blair should clarify his intentions at the earliest possible moment.


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