Whitehall officials are investigating whether the leak of private papers relating to the former Labour administration amounts to a breach of Government secrecy, it emerged today.
The Daily Telegraph obtained a cache of documents which shed new light on the roles of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls in Gordon Brown’s plot to take over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister.
They include private memos written by hand by Brown, as well as letters from Blair to his former Chancellor.
Reports today suggested that the documents came from the personal files of shadow chancellor Balls and went missing after he moved out of the Department for Children following last year’s general election.
It is understood that they were not among boxes of papers which the department delivered to his House of Commons office.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Cabinet Office is looking first into whether this particular set of papers was in the possession of any Government department and, if so, whether there have been any breaches of document security within government.”
Downing Street confirmed the inquiry was launched in response to a request from Balls.
The shadow chancellor said he welcomed the investigation, and said the last time had had seen the documents was when they were on his in the department, he told the BBC, adding: “I don’t know how they were taken and got to the Telegraph.”
He rejected claims that the papers showed there was a plot by Mr Brown’s supporters, saying the suggestions was “false and mendacious”, adding:
“The idea that there was a plot or a coup is untrue and not justified by these papers.”
He insisted his role was to try to “hold things together” at a turbulent time – but also acknowledged that the transition from Blair to Brown was not well handled and that Labour needed to learn lessons.
“I lived through these years. I know what happens when people allow personalities and debates and fights to get in the way of the national interest. I was part of trying to hold things together in difficult times,” he said.
“There are important lessons to learn, people want to know that the Labour Party has learned them. We have, 100%. That is why we are not going to be diverted by these kind of false and mendacious allegations.”
But Conservative Party deputy chairman Michael Fallon said that the papers showed that Balls and Miliband could not be trusted.
“As recently as last year, Balls and Ed Miliband were denying something we now know to be true,” he said.
“While Britain’s debt doubled, welfare spending spiralled out of control and education standards fell, they were obsessing about getting rid of the elected prime minister and putting Gordon Brown into position.
“Instead of owning up to their role in a dysfunctional government and coming up with a credible plan to deal with the problems facing Britain, they are starting to plot against each other. They can never be trusted with government again.”
The leaked papers include letters exchanged between Blair and Brown which show them haggling over the terms for a handover of 10 Downing Street.
They also suggest that the Brown camp was planning for the change of power within weeks of the 2005 general election, with key roles in the process for Mr Miliband, Mr Balls and Douglas Alexander – now Labour’s leader, shadow chancellor and shadow foreign secretary.
The files show that in February 2006 Blair wrote to Brown accepting that “you (understandably) want me to go now”, but saying that care must be taken to ensure the new leader is seen as “the candidate of continuity and change”.
This would require a “clear demonstration” to the public that Blair, as the embodiment of New Labour, was “working hand in hand with the successor”.
Suggesting a deal under which he would leave in summer 2007, Blair said that in return he would need “full help and co-operation” on key reforms to the NHS, schools, the respect agenda, welfare and energy.
He also warned: “Whilst I remain PM, the final decision has to be mine; and that cannot provoke a breakdown. I will try, at all costs, to avoid disagreement, but there can’t be stalemate if it happens.”
Brown scribbled the words “shallow”, “inconsistent” and “muddled” on a copy of the letter he passed to Balls.
He also responded with a document, which he intended Blair to sign, setting out a deal under which Brown would be put in charge of a number of future policy groups and would “set out with my full support and that of my team the agenda for beyond 2007 and for the next Parliament”.
A set of memos from Brown – littered with spelling mistakes and in block capitals – show how he tried to seize the agenda and prepare for a general election battle with David Cameron through a series of tours, speeches and books.