updated 9/9/2006 11:07:42 AM ET 2006-09-09T15:07:42

Prime Minister Tony Blair urged his Labour Party on Saturday to stop its “spasm” of bitter infighting, saying it could lose the next general election if the personal attacks continue and the party fails to redefine itself and its goals.

He urged his party to stop the disputes and clearly outline its positions on issues such as security during the war on terrorism, immigration, pension shortfalls and global warming.

“We’re not going to win if we have personal attacks by anybody on anyone,” Blair said in a speech to a think-tank in London.

Many in the Labour Party had hoped that Blair’s reluctant announcement on Thursday that he would resign within a year would quiet the bickering that flared in the party last week. He and Treasury chief Gordon Brown — widely expected to be the next prime minister — appeared to have reached a private understanding over the handover of power.

But angry comments by Charles Clarke, formerly Britain’s top law and order official, have demonstrated how uneasy the new peace is.

In comments published Saturday in The Daily Telegraph, Clarke said Brown’s “massive weakness” was that he was a “control-freak” who could not work with people and who lacked Blair’s “charm.”

“It’s a controlling thing — he thinks he has to control everything,” Clarke was quoted as saying about Brown. “He is totally, totally uncollegiate. Can he change? That’s the question. Can he delegate?”

Clarke previously had chastised Brown for the way he handled this week’s party turmoil and said his succession as prime minister was not guaranteed.

Clarke said Brown’s broad smile, splashed across newspaper front pages after he left talks at Blair’s Downing Street office — which had reportedly deteriorated into a shouting match — was provocative and poorly judged.

“A lot of people are very upset and cross about that. It was absolutely stupid, a stupid, stupid thing to do,” Clarke was quoted as saying in London’s Evening Standard newspaper Friday.

He said Brown also should have acted more decisively against eight junior government officials whose protest resignations on Wednesday forced Blair’s announcement.

Brown’s allies have insisted he was not behind the anti-Blair plotting.

Senior party figures have publicly backed him as the next Labour leader — and therefore prime minister — in an effort to prevent the eventual handover of power from getting even uglier and throwing national elections expected in 2009 to a resurgent Conservative Party.

Britain 'shoulder to shoulder' with U.S.
In a newspaper piece Friday, Brown sought to ease the fears of those who worry he would veer left instead of following in Blair’s centrist footsteps.

Brown praised the prime minister as courageous, and promised Britain would do whatever was necessary to battle terrorism. He said that during an upcoming trip to New York he would reaffirm to Americans that Britain, as it did after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, “stands ... shoulder to shoulder with them.”

It was not clear what motivated the attack by Clarke, who could be positioning himself to one day challenge Brown as party leader and eventually prime minister. Although he was long seen as a Blair ally, that relationship has grown chilly since his firing so his comments may not have been sanctioned by the prime minister’s camp.

Whatever Clarke’s intent, his remarks made clear the amount of bitterness that has built up in the party during months of argument over the length of Blair’s tenure.

Anger over Blair’s handling of last month’s Middle East fighting and anxiety over the party’s slide in the polls had fueled impatience in the party for him to leave quickly, or at least to say when he planned to go.

In his speech Saturday, Blair said the infighting reminded him how his party’s ideological disputes had kept it out of power for many years. Today, he said, the New Labour philosophy that he and Brown created — one that promotes social justice and economic efficiency — remains strong and intact.

He said the center-left party, which has been in power since 1997, could still win the next general election, if it puts aside the infighting and adapts its positions on complex issues of concern to the British general public.

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