Get Gordon: the backbench rebels with a single cause

Labour's conspirators believe 100 MPs are ripe for revolt

When you are plotting to sack your leader, it is important that you are seen to be doing your duty. The proper thing for Labour MPs yesterday was to be out on the doorsteps, trying to persuade voters to head for the polling booths.

As MPs fanned out around the country, Westminster's corridors and bars – where plots are traditionally hatched and abandoned – were deserted. And what had previously been a conspiracy by email turned into a conspiracy by mobile phone.

In between conversations with hostile voters, the plotters had their ears clamped to handsets, encouraging wavering backbenchers to rebel.

In most places, the electors' reaction was utterly discouraging for Labour, as people who have turned out for the party in election after election refused to make eye contact and became strangely evasive about their voting intentions.

As the voters blew cold, the conspiracy heated up. "I have found people shifting their view about Gordon," one of the conspirators told The Independent yesterday, after a series of telephone conversations with fellow MPs about what they were hearing from the voters. "They are saying we are not going to survive unless there's movement at the top of the party."

He added: "There's a huge level of dissatisfaction not just in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party], but in the wider party as well. There are over 100 MPs dissatisfied with our direction. Whether they are willing to put their heads over the parapet is another matter."

One former minister who wants to see Gordon Brown replaced by Alan Johnson said: "It's just awful to campaign for Brown when you have got no belief in him.

"People are coming up and saying we should have got rid of him last year. But Brown doesn't care about the party – he only cares about himself. He is delusional if he doesn't realise what's going on."

Another ex-minister said: "I don't think that Gordon can survive now, and I have signed the letter calling for his resignation. I think there will be a sufficient number of names to force him to step down."

He said he had been approached for his signature by the former home secretary Charles Clarke, but added that Mr Clarke is not acting alone: "There are lots of people collecting names."

The plan is still to present the Prime Minister with a letter bearing the signatures of at least 50 Labour MPs, calling on him to resign. The malcontents want to hand it over as early as today, but could hold back until Sunday, after Mr Brown has returned from the D-Day anniversary celebration in Normandy.

No one expects the letter, on its own, to drive Mr Brown out of office, but the conspirators hope it will act as a catalyst that will induce the Cabinet – notably Jack Straw or Alan Johnson – to tell him that he has to go.

One conspirator, speaking with the sound of an election loudspeaker in the background, said: "While the peasants will continue their revolt with their pitchforks, the real people who need to step up to the plate are Cabinet ministers. We need people with courage and conviction to come forward.

"There are a huge number of people in the Parliamentary Labour Party who want to ensure the leadership issue is dealt with speedily and respectfully."

Gordon Brown's allies have already given the rebels notice that, no matter how bad the results of yesterday's vote prove to be, the Prime Minister intends to stay on. In an attempt to get their retaliation in early, the Chief Whip, Nick Brown, gave out the names of MPs he believed were implicated in the plot.

One of the names they gave out was Paul Farrelly, MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who said yesterday that he had neither signed, nor even seen, any letter calling on Mr Brown to resign. He suspected that the reason he was named was that Mr Brown, who has been personally ringing backbench Labour MPs asking for support, had called him twice, but he had not returned the call because was busy with a last-ditch effort to try to save Labour from losing control of Staffordshire Council.

Furious, he said: "This is yet again bad behaviour by the clique around Gordon Brown. They never learn, and it's totally unacceptable. They should really reflect on whether they are fit, morally and in practice, to lead the Labour Party. They have learnt nothing from the Damian McBride fiasco in shoving names out indiscriminately just because some people may be privately critical of the Government or of government policy.

"It's a bunker and siege mentality that will lead the Labour Party off a very steep cliff, and things have to change quickly."

Two others named by Downing Street, the former Cabinet ministers Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers, were also not involved in the plotting, since both were on separate business trips in the Middle East yesterday. Mr Clarke, who is one of the instigators, was not on Downing Street's list of suspects.

John McDonnell, a left-wing Labour MP, also complained yesterday about "dirty tricks" orchestrated in Downing Street. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr McDonnell said: "I am writing to ask you to ensure that your office desists from this briefing activity. It is not my style to undertake this type of covert attack on a colleague."

And the powerbrokers who will determine if they succeed

Jack Straw

The Justice Secretary is the most senior of the "men in grey suits" who could tell Gordon Brown to quit for the good of the party. Friends say he has no intention of doing that. But the oldest Cabinet member is famous for sensing which way the political wind is blowing. Were he to tell Brown his time was up, the PM would find it impossible to ignore him.

Alan Johnson

It is said that in politics the assassin never inherits the crown, so as the man most likely to succeed Gordon Brown the Health Secretary will keep well away from any move to force him out. "He is doing the job and there is absolutely no one who could do [it] better," Johnson said, even as plotters were collecting signatures calling on Brown to quit.

Alistair Darling

The Chancellor has been a good friend and ally of Brown for many years but it is said that he will refuse to be moved to another Cabinet post, forcing Brown to keep him where he is or sack him. Brown has to assert his authority over his Cabinet if he is to survive. His old friend could be the obstacle that makes the reshuffle go horribly wrong from the start.

Jon Cruddas

Although the Dagenham MP has never been a minister, he has a strong following in all sections of the party. Were he to stand as a stalking horse candidate – a plan his allies deny – he could win support from dozens of backbenchers with his bid to reconnect with grassroots voters. Given the turbulence in Labour ranks, he could even win the top job.

Harriet Harman

The surprise winner of the Labour deputy leadership contest is among the party's most powerful figures.

Her close links to Gordon Brown make it almost certain she would not deliver the "black spot", but she would be well placed to relay to him the despair among backbenchers. Could that message persuade Brown to quit?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn