The Mutiny of Gordon Brown
I’ve been banging on about the US Presidential election and I’ve failed to talk about what’s happening in my own backyard. Basically, a growing number of British Labour MPs are calling for a leadership contest. Should this happen, this would most likely result in Gordon Brown no longer being the Prime Minister. This wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone living in this country as opinion polls have shown a complete erosion of support for the Labour Party as the housing market and economy have gone south. That said, I’m really surprised by the mounting rebellion within the party — particularly as if a general election were to happen in the near future, the only real winner would be David Cameron and the Conservatives who have been waiting 11+ years to get back in power.
From The Sunday Times, Published: September 14, 2008
By Jonathan Oliver and Marie Woolf
Ex-ministers join Gordon Brown rebellion
CABINET ministers were last night being urged to force Gordon Brown from office after 10 former government members publicly demanded a leadership contest.
Following the dramatic sacking of Siobhain McDonagh as a government whip, a string of senior Labour figures yesterday added their voices to the calls for a formal party ballot.
Barry Gardiner, a special envoy for Brown, said it was time for a leadership contest because “the public has stopped listening to Gordon Brown” and he is “not a popular prime minister”.
A coalition of up to a dozen senior MPs has now demanded that Labour send out leadership nomination papers before the annual party conference starts next weekend in Manchester. The rebel challenge has received private support from serving ministers, including one cabinet minister who said it was the only way of forcing Brown from office.
A YouGov poll for The Sunday Times today shows the Conservatives, on 46%, in a commanding 19-point lead over Labour, languishing on 27%.
Eric Joyce, parliamentary aide to John Hutton, the business secretary, issued a blunt ultimatum to Brown after signing a magazine article criticising his leadership: “It should become clear in the next two or three weeks if he can turn things around or if he is utterly incapable of it.” Frank Field, a former welfare minister, demanded the cabinet find the courage to rescue the party from certain electoral annihilation. “This is the only strategy left to us to actively get a change in leadership.
“Given we haven’t got a cabinet stuffed with people who would win political VCs, this strategy is forced upon MPs because the cabinet has so far failed to carry out one of its key roles,” he said.
Joan Ryan, a vice-chairman of the Labour party and special envoy to Cyprus, yesterday became the second rebel MP to lose her job. She said: “Those people in our party who have something to offer and are capable of leadership need to put themselves forward.”
The rebels’ tactics were condemned by Brown loyalists who accused them of helping the Tories.
Labour chiefs are reluctant to issue nomination papers to all MPs and party members because they fear it would be like handing a “loaded gun” to Brown’s critics.
The conspirators are hoping to exploit an arcane rule in the Labour constitution by demanding that the general secretary, Ray Collins, issue forms for the post of party leader and deputy leader, a move that would create unstoppable pressure for a formal challenge to Brown.
Lord Falconer, the former lord chancellor, is understood to have given private legal advice on whether the party would be acting improperly if it refused to issue the forms.
“Charlie Falconer did a piece of work to see whether they are in breach of their own rules by not sending out nomination papers. He did it three or four months ago,” said an informed source. “He is not going to involve himself in the political process, but he has got great skill in the legal sphere.”
The rebels are not agreed on who should succeed Brown. The likely front runners are David Miliband, the foreign secretary; Alan Johnson, the health secretary; and Harriet Harman, the deputy leader.
Fiona Mactaggart, a former home office minister, said she had applied for nomination papers because the party no longer had “a clear sense of leadership and direction”. She said: “My constituents have begun to pity the Labour party. I am not in politics to be pitied.”
Greg Pope, a former government whip, said: “We can’t go on like this pretending there isn’t a problem. The leadership is the only thing that is being discussed by the MPs. What we need to do is bring it into the open. Party members need to have a say.”
McDonagh, who sparked the latest political crisis when news of her letter demanding a leadership contest broke on Friday, said she had no regrets.
“It is a brutal game. But when I sent the letter. I knew what the possibilities might be. We are in difficult times. There is a recession. People are anxious. In the 21st century you need to be able to communicate a message.”
The other rebel former government members who are understood to have written to Labour chiefs are Janet Anderson, the former tourism minister; Jim Dowd, Anderson’s partner and a former whip; George Howarth, a former Home Office minister; and Graham Stringer, a former Cabinet Office minister.
Gardiner, writing in The Sunday Times, accused Brown of “vacillation, loss of international credibility and timorous political manoeuvres that the public cannot understand”.
In another attack, a dozen MPs including Patricia Hewitt, the former health secretary, and Joyce, Hutton’s aide, have written an article in Progress, a Blairite magazine, warning that the party would suffer a “hammer blow” unless it changed direction.
The crisis is expected to be debated at a meeting on Tuesday of Labour’s ruling national executive committee, with the prime minister present.
Several cabinet ministers failed to respond to a newspaper survey asking whether they wanted to see Brown continue as prime minister – despite instruction from the whips’ office to cooperate. Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, and Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, were among those “unavailable for comment”.
Tony Lloyd, chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, dismissed the rebellion as a “bit of a sideshow”. A Downing Street source said: “The Blairites have been talking up the idea of loads of ministers resigning. But the best they can come up with is an assistant government whip.”