Disarray in Downing Street

Brown struggles to regain his authority after Government hit by spate of surprise resignations

Gordon Brown was struggling to regain his authority last night as a planned cabinet reshuffle designed to launch a political fightback was wrecked by a spate of Labour resignations.

On a day of chaos in government circles, Jacqui Smith's aides confirmed she would stand down as Home Secretary at the reshuffle, expected soon after local and European elections tomorrow in which Labour fears a meltdown.

Last night, Labour backbenchers told The Independent that the "complete disarray" in the Government had increased the prospects of an attempt to oust Mr Brown after this week's elections.

Ms Smith told the Prime Minister at Easter she wanted to quit to protect her family, soon after becoming the first victim of the leaking of the details of MPs' expenses claims. She came under fire for listing her sister's London property as her main home and claiming "second homes" allowances on her family home in her Redditch constituency, including a claim for two adult films submitted by her husband.

Ms Smith is not the only MP heading for the departure lounge. Tom Watson, a Cabinet Office minister and member of the Brown inner circle, surprised Labour MPs by announcing he would leave the Government.

Beverley Hughes, the Children's minister, and Patricia Hewitt, the former health secretary, said they would quit Parliament at the general election. So did David Chaytor, a Labour backbencher who claimed £13,000 in expenses for a mortgage he had paid off. More than 40 Labour MPs have now disclosed they will stand down, reflecting the widespread resignation in the party that it is heading for an inevitable defeat.

Four Labour MPs caught up in the expenses scandal have been formally barred from standing for the party at the next general election by an internal panel. Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, became the first victim of the scandals after being banned from being a Labour candidate. Three of the four had already announced they would stand down and so have not been expelled from the party by Labour's "star chamber" or had the whip removed.

The Home Secretary's pre-emptive strike led to opposition claims that Mr Brown had a "lame duck" Cabinet. The expenses scandal has put a big question mark over Alistair Darling's hopes of remaining as Chancellor, after he repaid almost £700 of allowances wrongly claimed for his London flat. Two other cabinet ministers – Geoff Hoon and Hazel Blears – have repaid money after revelations about their expenses.

There is deep frustration among Brown allies that yesterday's shambles may further harm Labour's prospects in tomorrow's elections. If the results turn into a Labour rout, backbenchers will try to enlist cabinet ministers for a campaign to force Mr Brown to stand down before the general election.

Last night, senior Labour figures warned that the prospect of a move against Mr Brown was becoming more likely every day. "There is a growing feeling that we have nothing to lose," said one former cabinet minister. "It now feels more likely than last year," when a campaign to oust the Prime Minister fizzled out.

Even if they fail to win cabinet-level support, MPs predict an uncoordinated outbreak of backbench "disorder" and "chaos" that could bring Mr Brown down. He is receiving conflicting advice ahead of a reshuffle that could prove critical to efforts to hold on to his post.

His critics warned he would provoke a civil war if he promotes his long-time ally Ed Balls to Chancellor. "If he wants to trigger a leadership crisis, that is the way to do it," one said. Brownites accused Blairites of talking up the prospects of Mr Balls becoming Chancellor in the hope of heading off the move. Some close advisers are urging Mr Brown to use the reshuffle to "clear out" some big names embroiled in the expenses controversy. "The public want blood," one minister said. But others said he could not allow the row to dictate the reshuffle. Yesterday, Mr Brown said he would make the changes that are "right for the country".

Some MPs urged Mr Brown to speed up the reshuffle. But he is due to attend the D-Day memorial events in Normandy at the weekend, so it is most likely to be take place next Monday.

The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru added to the pressure on Mr Brown by tabling a Commons motion for debate next week calling for an immediate general election.

William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said the Government seemed to be in a state of collapse. "They have lost the authority and unity and confidence to actually govern the country," he said. But David Cameron admitted that the expenses scandal was harming the Tories too.

A ComRes poll today on voting intentions for the European elections puts the Tories on 24 per cent, Labour on 22 per cent, Ukip 17 per cent, the Greens 15 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 14 per cent. The survey, commissioned by the Greens, suggests the Tories would lose eight seats in the European Parliament, Labour two, the Liberal Democrats four and Ukip one, while the Greens would gain nine seats.

ON THE UP?

Ed Miliband

The Climate Change Secretary has nothing to fear from the reshuffle. He is a trusted friend of Gordon Brown, has relatively few enemies and has emerged squeaky clean from the expenses row. There is an outside chance that he could be the next Chancellor.

Alan Johnson

As Gordon Brown's most likely successor, the Health Secretary has to tread carefully. If he accepts a new job, it could be taken as a sign he has acknowledged the PM is there for the medium term. He can argue that he needs to stay to deal with swine flu.

Ed Balls

Balls has always wanted to be Chancellor. Brown would like to promote him, setting him up to be the next Labour PM. But he has many enemies. What happens here will show how strong Brown feels his position is.

Yvette Cooper

The Treasury Chief Secretary will have to move if her husband Ed Balls takes over at No 11, and even if he does not, she can expect to take charge of a government department for the first time, not least because Jacqui Smith's exit makes it necessary to promote a woman.

Caroline Flint

As minister for Europe, Flint holds one of the most important jobs outside the Cabinet. Her time for cabinet rank has probably come, especially if Hazel Blears is dropped. Her expenses claims for her London flat have been criticised, but are not bad enough to be career destroying.

Jack Straw

The oldest and most experienced cabinet minister. He is not in line for promotion, but if there is to be a delegation of cabinet ministers to tell Brown he has to resign, it will not carry much weight without Straw.

James Purnell

The Work and Pensions Secretary is seen by Blairites as a possible Labour leader. A promotion would be a good way to placate them. He did not pay capital gains tax when he sold his London flat but says he would not have been liable for it even if he had not been an MP.

Peter Mandelson

Labour MPs are predicting that the Business Secretary will achieve his life's ambition to be Foreign Secretary this time, but it is unlikely that Brown will want him travelling the world when there is an election imminent and his strategic political brain is needed at home.

Vince Cable

One wild rumour is that Brown will bring in Cable as his Chancellor, paving the way for a coalition government if Labour loses the next election. But Brown will not make the offer and Cable would not accept if he did.

ON THE SLIDE?

David Miliband

A year ago the Foreign Secretary looked as if he was about to take over from a weakened Gordon Brown but, having fluffed his chance, he is now likely to stay where he is. If the Home Secretary and Chancellor are moved, that is quite enough change at the top end of the Cabinet.

Alistair Darling

The Chancellor is one of Gordon Brown's oldest friends who got where he is by handling difficult briefs without any bad headlines. But that talent deserted him during the expenses row. Visiting Swindon yesterday he did not sound like a man whose career is over so maybe another cabinet job awaits.

Hazel Blears

Until recently the Communities Secretary had a promising future as a leading Blairite moderniser. Then she made fun of Gordon Brown's YouTube appearance and, worse still, was exposed for having avoided capital gains tax when she sold her home. Paying back the money is not likely to save her.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'