Brown distances himself from backbenchers' call for transition

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Following his first Commons defeat on Wednesday, Labour MPs are to urge the Prime Minister to make clear when he intends to stand down. Mr Blair bought time after the May general election by promising a "stable and orderly transition", but a growing number of backbenchers are demanding to know when it will take place. "What we have at the moment is not stable or orderly and there is no sign of a transition," one senior Labour MP said yesterday.

There is renewed tension between allies of the Prime Minister and Chancellor. Yesterday the Brown camp signalled it will not move against Mr Blair but that it was up to Labour MPs to demand a departure timetable.

One Blair ally said this message "sounds a bit too much like the incitement of the Parliamentary Labour Party for my liking."

Pressure for a statement of intent by Mr Blair is not confined to his usual critics.

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, said yesterday: "While there is this level of uncertainty, it is more likely that when it comes to the takeover, the party will not be in as strong a position as it is now. That can only be easily resolved by understanding exactly what the schedule is for a changeover of the leader."

Mr Brown is distancing himself from such demands. During his visit to the Middle East he said: "I am not going to get into this business of personalities and individuals. You are really not going to draw me into that, timetables, vetoes and everything else. The most important thing is that we have got to focus on the manifesto that we stood on at the election and ensure that is implemented."

Mr Blair has privately acknowledged that he needs to explain his planned reforms on schools, the National Health Service and incapacity benefit at an earlier stage to Labour MPs to avoid more Commons defeats. He has called a special political session of the Cabinet, without civil servants, next Thursday to discuss the fightback campaign.

The first drive will be on education, after the White Paper on schools received a cool reception from Labour MPs. Mr Blair and ministers will make a concerted effort to sell the proposals to the public, head teachers and MPs before the proposals are put before parliament early next year.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, warned the Government not to try to sneak through plans to dilute the role of local education authorities without primary legislation. He said the plans in the White Paper would not get through parliament unless they were changed.

Interviewed on GMTV's Sunday programme tomorrow, Mr Corbyn warned that another Commons defeat could force Mr Blair to resign. "I think he is in very serious trouble then if he loses another Commons vote."

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