Brown hits the campaign trail to refute claims that he is 'sulking'

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Gordon Brown will hit back today at critics who claim he has gone on a "big sulk" over being ousted as Labour's election supremo by Alan Milburn.

Gordon Brown will hit back today at critics who claim he has gone on a "big sulk" over being ousted as Labour's election supremo by Alan Milburn.

The Chancellor will set out a personal agenda for dealing with youth unemployment at the start of a packed week of engagements which is clearly intended to dispel the impression he has been "in hiding" since the pre-election campaign was launched by Tony Blair.

Mr Brown's absence abroad on business, including a visit to China last week, coupled with opinion polls showing the Tories had narrowed Labour's lead to two points, led to weekend reports that the rift between Mr Brown and Mr Milburn was threatening to derail Labour's election campaign.

In a speech in Wolverhampton today, Mr Brown will return to domestic campaigning, saying that in the next parliament no teenager should be unemployed. But the draft text, littered with references to his proposals, rather than those of the Government, will be seen by some cabinet colleagues as further evidence of his prime ministerial ambitions.

The latest reports of a rift with the Blair camp centred on claims that Mr Milburn and the Prime Minister tried to "hijack" Mr Brown's announcement of an increase in the minimum wage while he was in China. Mr Milburn dismissed claims that Mr Brown had been sidelined as "complete and utter nonsense".

Amid growing unhappiness among Labour MPs at the party's campaign tactics, he insisted on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost that the Chancellor and his handling of the economy were "absolutely central" to their strategy. Mr Milburn said the timing of the minimum wage announcement had been suggested by Mr Brown at a meeting of the Cabinet's election strategy committee with the Chancellor, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Blair and Ian McCartney, the Labour Party chairman.

Supporters of Mr Brown were heartened by a poll by CommunicateResearch for The Independent on Sunday. It found if Mr Brown was leader, the party's support would rise to 46 per cent, the Tories would have 31 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats 14 per cent.

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