Blunkett: Labour is heading for 'civil war'

David Blunkett warns of 'self-inflicted' wounds amid rumours of Blairite plot

Labour is lurching towards "civil war" following a succession of crises that have undermined discipline and reopened old divides within the party, a former Cabinet minister has warned feuding colleagues.

David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary and a key figure in the Blair government, called on his party to regroup urgently or face disaster in June's local and European elections.

He spoke out as rival Labour factions traded recriminations after a grim month for Mr Brown culminated in a retreat on his proposed overhaul of MPs' expenses and defeat for his plans to stop some Gurkhas settling in the UK.

Labour chiefs are braced for a dismal performance in the elections on 4 June, while some disillusioned Blairite MPs are threatening a final attempt to oust Mr Brown during the summer.

Mr Blunkett said the party urgently needed to offer a fresh vision to the electorate in order to get back on the front foot after the "smeargate" email scandal and damaging disclosures about MPs' expenses

"We cannot afford civil war," he told The Independent. "Both those on the old Left and some of my old colleagues who are described as Blairites, must not look backwards. Those are in the past and we must make our own way. After the last couple of weeks, we need to regroup and have a vision. We cannot afford to wait until after the summer elections. The public are still not convinced by the Tories."

In a speech today, the former Home Secretary will call for the party to "draw a line" under the last two weeks. He will hit out at "siren voices" within the party who he says are set on "turning back the clock".

Mr Blunkett also voices some disquiet over the Prime Minister's leadership, urging the party to "avoid self-inflicted wounds".

He will say: "The Damian McBride emails, the public horror at some of the exposure of MPs' expenses claims and an erosion of confidence in politics generally, requires a line to be drawn and the restoration of the antennae. The old battles are over and the need for visionary action is self-evident. So talk of going back to the past is dangerous."

The Prime Minister has faced criticism from key Blairite figures, including the former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers and another former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

A Brown loyalist last night accused them of plotting one last attempt to oust the Prime Minister before the general election expected next Spring.

He noted: "Byers was sitting there with a grin on his face when the [Gurkha] result was announced. Some people are going around saying things will get worse for Gordon. It's an organised operation."

But there are growing signs within Labour ranks that the mutiny is spreading to previously loyal figures. One senior minister protested that the "atmosphere is terrible" in Downing Street, while a veteran MP said the mood within the Parliamentary Labour Party was "very, very angry".

A backbencher with a marginal seat said: "The man has lost his authority – he's had a charisma bypass."

The turmoil in Labour ranks forced Mr Brown to order a fresh climbdown on expenses to avoid the risk of his second humiliating Commons defeat in 24 hours. Although he had already abandoned plans to replace the controversial second homes allowance with a daily "clocking in" payment to MPs, he had still wanted to win approval for the broad principle of linking allowances to attendance.

Labour MPs had formally been given a free vote on the subject, but were privately warned it amounted to a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister.

But with backbench MPs in mutinous mood and the Tories opposing the proposal, the Government decided not to press ahead with the perilous vote.

Instead the issue will be left to the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly. Alan Duncan, the shadow Commons leader, accused the Government of "treading rapidly into realms of complete and utter lunacy".

No 10 drew some comfort from support in last night's votes to other expenses reforms proposed by the Prime Minister. They included banning outer London MPs from claiming for a second home, requiring MPs to publish full details of outside earnings and obliging them to produce receipts for all expenses claims.

The changes went through with massive majorities after Tory chiefs allowed their MPs to go home, prompting Labour accusations that David Cameron was less committed to reform than he maintained.

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