Cabinet ministers have told Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to stop their feuding and expressed concern that infighting could cost Labour the next general election.
Several ministers vented their anger at the Prime Minister and Chancellor yesterday over the recent hostilities between their camps as the Cabinet met to discuss next week's party conference in Manchester.
Jacqui Smith, Labour's chief whip, warned ministers there was "a mixture of confusion and anger in the party and the country". Other cabinet members, including the Blairite Patricia Hewitt and Mr Brown's ally Alistair Darling, spoke strongly about the infighting two weeks ago, when Brown supporters were accused of mounting a coup against Mr Blair.
Some ministers fear the tensions at the top of the party will erupt again at the annual conference despite Mr Blair's promise that it will be his last as Labour leader. They said the party must concentrate on policy to show it had not lost touch with the voters.
Mr Blair admitted yesterday that Labour had had "a bad few weeks". He told the party's national executive committee: "We have got the time and chance to put it right. The public feels shut out and that is bad. They don't like uncertainty and they need clear leadership. It is the job of everybody to give them that."
John Reid, the Home Secretary, warned that Labour's electability was now at stake. He told The Spectator thatit would be "absolutely disastrous" if Mr Blair were "pushed out" as that would lead to the assumption that Labour wanted to change direction.
"I think more sensible people would think it would be crazy for anybody to try and have a major division in the party over whether it is this month, or next month," he said. Mr Reid did not rule out running for the leadership but hinted that Mr Brown might not face a challenge from within the Cabinet if he signed up to Mr Blair's agenda.
Downing Street denied that Mr Blair backed down over plans to secure his legacy by setting up four cabinet reviews to look at long-term policies on foreign affairs, public services, economic competitiveness and security and migration.
Labour's fragile truce came under strain when Lord Morris, the former leader of the transport workers' union and a Brown ally, urged Mr Blair to quit before next May's elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English councils, warning that Labour members were "demoralised" and might not work for the party if he remained leader.
He dismissed the idea that Mr Blair could bind his successor to his agenda. "I don't see how you can determine what's going to happen in 10 years by making decisions in the next three months," he said.
* Lord Levy, Labour's chief fundraiser, was again interviewed by Scotland Yard as part of its "cash for honours" inquiry yesterday. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "A man who was arrested in July in connection with the investigation came back on bail today. He was interviewed and has now been re-bailed."Reuse content