Brown stopped from visiting Afghanistan
The Mole: Whether or not it was a snub, it prevented the photo op he wanted as Parliament breaks up for the summer, reports our Westminster insider
Gordon Brown has been denied the chance to pay an image-boosting trip to Afghanistan to visit Britain's frontline troops before he enters what is set to be a difficult summer break.
With relations between the Prime Minister and military top brass at a new low over the row about equipment levels in the region, and with MPs leaving the Commons tomorrow for the long summer recess, Brown wanted to be seen supporting the troops. But when his aides asked the military if they could arrange a visit last week, the request was denied by the Ministry of Defence.
According to the Times, an MoD spokesman said: "The prime minister did make a request to visit Afghanistan last week. He will take advice given to him by the Ministry of Defence. The advice which came from theatre was that, given the army's ongoing major operation at the moment, it would not be the best time to accommodate the visit. He was not snubbed."
So, instead of pictures of the Prime Minister being ferried around Afghanistan in a British helicopter, the week was dominated by reports from army chief Sir Richard Dannatt being flown around the region in a borrowed American Black Hawk talking about the lack of kit affecting troops on the ground.
Brown is desperate to end the row with the military over the operation in Afghanistan, particularly as he appears to be losing it. Defence secretary Bob Ainsworth has been forced to send a memo to his ministers telling them not to rubbish Sir Richard Dannatt after reports the army leader was somehow in league with the Tories.
And all the signs are that demands for extra equipment are likely to be met, with Downing Street insisting Sir Richard's 'shopping list' of kit was being given very serious consideration.
This is a tough week for Brown with Labour likely to be humiliated in Thursday's Norwich North by-election. The sitting MP, Ian Gibson, had a majority of 5,459 over the Conservatives in 2005 but he forced the poll after being dumped as Labour's general election candidate over his expenses claim in what many colleagues believe was a 'kangaroo court'.
It is expected local voters will take their revenge on Labour over the economy and the entire expenses scandal, and could even push the party into third place, or worse.
That will reignite the speculation over Brown's leadership, which has already been started by James Purnell, who resigned as part of the failed plot to oust Brown. In an interview with the Guardian on Friday, Purnell said he lost faith in Brown months ago. In what many have interpreted as preparation for a future leadership challenge of his own, Purnell announced he was leading a project to revitalise the party. ·
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