GORDON Brown has rejected the olive branch offered by Tony Blair over his demotion in the coming general election campaign, instead standing firm in his request for a substantial backhander.
Chancellor Brown, who this week launched a robust defence of his role as the guardian of Labour's core values, said his role as chancellor had given him a clear idea exactly how much he can expect.
He told Spoof:
"I know for a fact that olive branches are worthless in today's economic climate and I find it nothing short of a personal insult that Tony would even consider this pathetic offering. I have known him for 20 years, we even shared a windowless office at one stage, but if he thinks the "good old days" will get him out of this one, he's sadly mistaken. I may be good old gormless Gordy to him but deep down I'm a shrewd and canny Fifer and know he is now in a corner he cannot - and will not - back out of."
The Chancellor's outrage at the olive move will become even more evident at Labour's annual conference, when he plans to tell the party faithful that they must be "based on more than a set of individual policies announced by politicians" - a remark viewed as a direct jibe at the Prime Minister and his allies.
He will also raise the issue of "trust", a delicate point for Mr Blair, who is now facing a vote on Iraq after delegates forced the issue as a topic for debate at a conference already overshadowed by the fate of hostage Kenneth Bigley.
As Labour activists gathered in Brighton, Mr Blair used the branch to try and heal the rift with Mr Brown, who is still smarting after losing control of Labour's manifesto to his nemesis Alan Millburn, who returned to the Cabinet three weeks ago.
Said the Prime Minister:
"On consulting my trusted lifestyle guru, Carole Caplin, I decided it would be an appropriate gesture in the face of burgeoning hostilities between myself and Gordon but it has backfired. I know he is sulking over this but to shove an authentic, not to mention bloody expensive, Branches of Bethlehem gift back in my face is nothing short of childish. I just don't know where to go now, I'm lost, maybe a bottle of single malt whisky would have been more apt. He will still be doing the same job in the next election - I don't know what his problem is."
This assertion was rejected by Mr Brown's allies yesterday, who said the Chancellor used to chair the election strategy committee and daily election meetings - and lost both positions in the Cabinet reshuffle three weeks ago.
The Chancellor, however, remained relaxed about the news and vowed to find other ways to campaign against the Tories, including kidnapping leader Michael Howard and holding him at a secret address in darkest west Fife until the opposition back off.
His Brighton speech contained stinging digs such as "from being the party not trusted on the economy, Labour is today the only political party trusted with the economy". By raising the issue of trust, Brash Brown hopes to irritate Mr Blair's allies, who know it is a weak spot for the Prime Minister after the Iraq war.
In a Sunday newspaper interview, Mr Brown did not fully quash rumours of a rift between himself and Mr Blair. He said he would continue to do his job to the best of his abilities and hoped Tony Blair would do the same.
"Pals do not offer tacky gifts to one another over something as serious as this, my career is at stake here" he went on, "I would say a hefty backhander is more like the thing - or even a long weekend at Chequers with Sarah - but a plastic olive branch made in a sweatshop in downtown Bethlehem beggars belief. In Fife we have a saying, "yir a right stingy swine" - meaning you are nothing more than a tight-fisted pig - and I think that old saying is more than fitting here. I bet he even lumped it in with his monthly expenses"
A spokesman for the Prime Minister last night denied rumours that Tony Blair was stingy and had used government expenses sheets to claim for the present. He said the rift between Mr Blair and Mr Brown was somewhat exacerbated by exaggerated tales in the red tops of Fleet Street and that the two men were now hoping to work out some sort of deal over a few oysters and a Chardonnay at The Ivy.
"This very personal row has turned into something of a media spectacle, it is now enflamed to the point of no return thanks to several gutter rags. Many believe if Tony had forked out a little more than ten new Sheqalim on a present things would have been different. I would urge people to consider that this was a very private gift, which came out of the Prime Minister's family budget and, bearing in mind he and his wife have Carole Caplin's monthly retainer to consider, I think it was more than generous."