Ministers plotting against embattled Brown
Lee Su Shyan
Mon, May 26, 2008
The Straits Times
LONDON - FOLLOWING Labour's disastrous loss in last week's Crewe and Nantwich by-election, ministers are reportedly planning to force embattled British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to appoint a leader in waiting.

Britain's Observer newspaper reported yesterday that the massive by-election defeat has raised fears that Mr Brown cannot lead the party to victory in the next general election, and sparked plotting against him.

It said that senior party members are holding emergency talks on how to prevent what it quoted one as calling the 'haemorrhaging' of power from Labour, with one option being to force the Prime Minister to appoint a deputy, a position he scrapped when he entered No. 10.

With Mr Brown facing plummeting popularity ratings, the plan would ostensibly be aimed at bolstering his flagging appeal and freeing him to focus on major issues.

But the paper said that in effect it would offer whoever was made his deputy the chance to shine and put himself in position for a smooth transition if Mr Brown were forced out.

It quoted a senior minister as saying: 'The debate is about having a deputy prime minister, either somebody with that title or who fulfils that role.

'It is possible the game is not actually to wield the knife (against Brown directly) but to put Gordon in a position where he has no alternative but to agree to a deputy.'

At the same time yesterday, Britain's Sunday Times reported that Foreign Secretary David Miliband was preparing to throw his hat into the ring in the event of a leadership contest.

However, Reuters later quoted him as telling Sky News that the report was 'fiction' and that Mr Brown is the 'right man for the job'.

It also quoted Health Secretary Alan Johnson, who has also been touted as a possible leadership contender, as telling the BBC: 'There is absolutely no appetite, I believe, in the party to change the leader.'

But amid reported claims by senior Labour insiders that at least half the Cabinet has privately concluded that Mr Brown cannot win the next election, the Sunday Times said that up to 40 backbench MPs are believed to be ready to back a leadership challenge.

Among ministers said to be ready to desert Mr Brown are Chancellor and one-time arch-loyalist Alistair Darling, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, and Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

The Observer said that the likely catalyst for a push against the Prime Minister will be a vote on his terrorism Bill in two weeks' time, which he is widely expected to lose.

And it says that Mr Straw, who has already signalled concerns about the measures to detain terror suspects for up to 42 days, is regarded as the most likely senior figure to move against him.

Meanwhile, The Scotsman yesterday reported that Mr Brown is expected to order a swift Cabinet reshuffle, in a bid to restore order.

Among the appointments he is reportedly being urged to make is to give Mr Johnson, a gifted communicator, a roving role, fronting the party and 'interpreting' his message to the wider public.


David Miliband, 42,
Foreign Secretary

A youthful and forward-looking minister, who former prime minister Tony Blair once dubbed 'my Wayne Rooney'.

Alan Johnson, 58,
Health Secretary

The former union leader is a gifted communicator, who has the potential to unite Labour's Left and Right.

Ed Balls, 41,
Schools Secretary

Having spent years as the Premier's closest adviser at the Treasury, the highly intelligent and equally ambitious minister was once known as 'Gordon Brown's brain'.

James Purnell, 38,
Work and Pensions Secretary

He was a rising star in the Blair government. A good TV performer, he is seen as one of Labour's best hopes of reconnecting with Middle England.

Andy Burnham, 38,
Culture Secretary

Popular among Labour backbenchers, but critics question whether he has the gravitas required of a future prime minister.

Jacqui Smith, 45,
Home Secretary

She epitomises the 'Worcester woman' voter. Her rise to Home Secretary was meteoric, but her slim majority in her Redditch constituency could be a serious handicap.

Jack Straw, 61
Justice Secretary

A highly experienced Whitehall veteran widely believed to be keen on the top job, although his age could work against him.


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