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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • 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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before