A Blairite cabinet minister has declined to endorse Gordon Brown as Tony Blair's successor and urged the Chancellor to join a wide-ranging debate about Labour's future policies.
John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has become the first cabinet minister to question the widespread assumption that Mr Brown will succeed Mr Blair.
Writing in The Independent today, he says: "The party does not belong to any one person. Its future must be decided democratically and openly. Debate is not a bad thing in politics. It is a vital part of it."
Asked last night whether he would support Mr Brown in the leadership election, Mr Hutton replied: "I don't know who the candidates will be in the next leadership election. I am not going to speculate.
"Gordon Brown has been a hugely successful chancellor. He is certainly going to be a candidate. I will be supporting the candidate who I think is most likely to make sure New Labour stays New Labour and governs in the national interest, not vested interests."
Mr Hutton insisted that what mattered was "ideas, not personalities" and that he was not trying to "block anyone". His remarks will fuel suspicions among Brown supporters that Blairites may be hoping that another cabinet member will enter the leadership. Possible candidates include John Reid, the Home Secretary, and Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary.
David Miliband, the Environment Secretary and a Blairite, backed Mr Brown yesterday, as have other senior ministers.
Mr Hutton's stance could put a question mark over whether he keeps his place in a Brown cabinet. But he said: "I am not the slightest bit worried about that. My job is to help the Prime Minister and the Government to do the things we said we would do at the election."
Doubts about Mr Brown were also raisedyesterday by Charles Clarke, the former home secretary, who backed the call by Blairites for a wide-ranging policy debate.
Criticising both Mr Blair and Mr Brown for making policy on the hoof, Mr Clarke said: "We will not succeed if some new leader or deputy leader produces, like a rabbit out of a hat or Marilyn Monroe out of a birthday cake, a series of policies and pronouncements for us all to admire."
In a swipe at tensions between Downing Street and the Treasury, he said: "When they are well synchronised, excellent progress can be made rapidly, when not, confusion and ineffectiveness can follow."Reuse content