Another damp squib, or the start of a real challenge?

Brown back on familiar territory amid new backbench unrest, but this time it could be serious. By Brian Brady and Jane Merrick

Gordon Brown last night tried to stamp out an attempted leadership coup by denying MPs the right to vote on whether he should keep his job.

As a number of MPs openly joined calls for a leadership contest, the Prime Minister used the full weight of the party machinery to prevent nomination papers being issued to all members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) before next week's annual conference in Manchester.

Mr Brown also slapped down the rebel MP Joan Ryan by sacking her as his envoy to Cyprus and as party vice-chair after she backed the Blairite former whip Siobhain McDonagh. Ms McDonagh was forced out of the Government on Friday after urging the party to issue leadership nomination forms.

Despite the Government's insistence that the critics were individuals bearing grudges against the leadership, four former Labour ministers and a fifth MP joined the rebellion. The Labour MPs Fiona Mactaggart, George Howarth, Graham Stringer, Gordon Prentice and Janet Anderson yesterday confirmed they had written to the party asking for nomination papers to be sent out. A number of fellow backbenchers are expected to support their call, including Peter Kilfoyle, Greg Pope and Jim Dowd, all former ministers.

The attempted coup appeared to involve MPs from the Blairite wing of the party, who want the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to be leader, and a number of backbenchers loyal to the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw.

Insiders suggested they were banding together because they could not separately amass the 71 names needed to force a contest. The factions would then fall behind their candidates, it was alleged. Mr Straw "completely and categorically" denied any involvement.

It also emerged that the rebels had been organising their strike for several weeks, and had agreed on a coordinated strategy to unseat Mr Brown as he struggled to revive his flagging premiership.

"What they really want is for a number of the most senior members of the Cabinet to approach Gordon and tell him the game's up," said one former minister who was involved in discussions with the rebels.

The moves coincided with an article in Progress magazine by 12 MPs, including Patricia Hewitt, the former cabinet minister, warning that the Government was suffering "malaise" under Mr Brown.

There were signs that the rebels had their hand forced by Downing Street in an attempt to flush them out before the party conference.

Ms Ryan denied she was part of a "plot or a conspiracy", but said "a number of MPs" had expressed concerns to her. "I think that in order to serve our constituents properly to the best of our ability ... and to ensure that we have the best way forward to deal with those big issues, we need to have this debate about the direction and leadership of our country out in the open now," she said.

However, Labour's general secretary, Ray Collins, rejected the demand for nomination papers, pointing to rules adopted since Labour came to power in 1997. In a letter to MPs, he said that when the party was in government it could hold a leadership election only if one was requested by a majority at the party conference on a card vote. A vote could be triggered only if at least 20 per cent of the PLP requested one, and named a candidate.

Mr Collins added: "As the party has followed this procedure for the last 11 years, I am confident that most members of the Parliamentary Labour Party are fully aware of their special responsibilities under rule to trigger the process which has not required the issue of nominations forms.

"I have a clear responsibility to ensure that the party follows the procedures adopted by all my predecessors in respect of leadership elections when in government."

Government insiders last night sought to play down the significance of the revolt, claiming it was a disorganised move by disgrun-tled former ministers.

A Downing Street source said: "We take some comfort that this is just a handful of backbenchers who have a grudge against Gordon and wish they still had a job in government. Labour Party members will not thank them for coming up with this distraction in the days before an important party conference."

The sense that the attempted coup was helped by leading Blairites was fuelled after Tony Blair's former press secretary, David Hill, told Channel 4 News on Thursday that "Gordon has let the grass grow under his feet, where he could have been setting out his vision, which he told us he was going to do almost a year ago and has not yet done."

The attack dogs: making a name for themselves

Siobhain McDonagh

A Blairite whose sister is the former Labour general secretary Baroness (Margaret) McDonagh, the MP for Mitcham and Morden wrote to the Chief Whip, Geoff Hoon, 10 days ago to request nomination papers. Her name was leaked to Sky News on Friday; she was sacked as assistant whip within hours.

Graham Stringer

The MP for Manchester Blackley and a supporter of Jack Straw, Mr Stringer was the first backbencher to call for a leadership contest, as early as May this year. He has predicted that more letters will be presented at the Labour Party conference.

Janet Anderson

A former culture minister under Tony Blair who is a supporter of Mr Straw, the MP for Rossendale and Darwen also signed an article in 'Progress' magazine warning of a "malaise" under Gordon Brown and saying that Labour would face a "hammer blow" at the next election.

Joan Ryan

A Blairite who is close to the former home secretary John Reid and close friends with Ms McDonagh, the MP for Enfield North was sacked yesterday as Mr Brown's personal envoy to Cyprus and Labour vice-chair after calling for a leadership contest.

George Howarth

Last month it emerged that the MP for Knowsley North and a supporter of Jack Straw was compiling a list of MPs who would want a contest. He denied he was acting on behalf of the Justice Secretary.

Fiona Mactaggart

The disaffected independent-minded MP for Slough is neither in the Blairite camp nor the Straw camp. She was sacked as Home Office minister by Tony Blair in 2005.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little