Brown picks 'A-team' for election campaign

Cabinet group includes ministers who were slow to support him against rebels

Gordon Brown has set up an "inner cabinet" to oversee Labour's general election campaign as he tries to convince his ministers that he will adopt a "team approach".

The Independent has learnt that his 10-strong "A-team" includes ministers who took several hours to declare their support for Mr Brown when rebel backbenchers launched a coup against him last week. They are the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman, the Chancellor Alistair Darling and the Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who denied speculation that they were colluding with the rebels.

Mr Brown normally chairs the "strategy group", a role performed by Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary and chairman of election strategy when the Prime Minister cannot attend. Other members include the Home Secretary Alan Johnson, the Schools Secretary and close Brown ally Ed Balls, the International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, who is the election co-ordinator, and the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, who is drafting Labour's manifesto.

But Mr Brown's fightback suffered a blow when Peter Watt, Labour's former general secretary, backed calls for him to stand down immediately. In a new book, he claims that Mr Alexander told him when he was pressing for an autumn 2007 election: "We have spent 10 years working with this guy [Mr Brown] and we don't actually like him. We have always thought the longer the British public get to know him, the less they would like him as well."

Mr Alexander insisted yesterday: "This was not my view then and is not my view now. I am working hard to get Gordon Brown re-elected as Prime Minister."

Brown aides are citing it as a sign that the Prime Minister is a "collegiate" leader after criticism last week that he relies too heavily on long-time allies such as Mr Balls. Tonight Mr Brown will share a platform with Lord Mandelson, Mr Alexander and Ms Harman when he outlines his election plans to Labour MPs. He will promise that the whole party will take the fight to the Tories, saying: "We can beat them. We must beat them. And we will beat them."

He will say: "From now until polling day, all the Cabinet will set out Labour's aspirations for a better future for Britain than the Tories could ever promise. We cannot and will not fight the election on small ideas but on big ideas. And so we will contrast Labour – the party of aspiration – with the Tories, the party whose only pledge to the mainstream majority is one of austerity."

James Purnell, who resigned from the cabinet last year in protest at Mr Brown's leadership, calls today for radical policies from the Prime Minister. He described Mr Brown as a "remarkable man" but, in an article in The Guardian, said if Labour won the next election it must offer voters "a radically different vision of society".

In a separate speech today Mr Brown will outline his goal for every family in Britain to have access to broadband linked to their children's school. The £300m investment will, he will say, provide free laptops and broadband for 270,000 low-income families across the country by March next year.

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