Labour MPs rally behind Brown after plot

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Gordon Brown drew the final line under the failed backbench coup against him by declaring last night that Britain's "hard-won economic recovery" could still be Labour's platform for election victory.

The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) rallied strongly behind Mr Brown when he addressed its weekly meeting. Several MPs criticised the former cabinet ministers Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon for demanding a secret ballot on his leadership.

A defiant Prime Minister rebuffed criticism that he had sidelined some cabinet ministers. "I am not a team of one. I am one of a team," he said. He tried to laugh off last week's rebellion by joking that his backbench critics might be sent to the salt mines to ease the problems on Britain's icy roads.

Mr Brown admitted: "Our record is not enough. We have got to show what we will do for the future." He acknowledged the need to spell out a debt and deficit reduction plan involving cuts in non-essential services.

The Prime Minister promised that Labour would campaign about people's "aspirations" – an answer to critics who claim he is planning a "core vote" strategy aimed at the party's traditional supporters.

"People's homes, people's jobs, people's aspirations will be on the ballot paper at the election," he said.

None of the rebel ringleaders addressed the packed meeting, but one veteran backbencher, David Winnick, told the Prime Minister that there was a "problem" with his leadership.

While he acknowledged that Mr Brown would lead Labour into the election and dismissed the coup as counter-productive, he said Mr Brown had failed to win over the voters. Mr Winnick said recent opinion polls pointed to a Tory government that would undermine the achievements of the past 13 years.

Tensions also surfaced before the meeting when Labour MP Geraldine Smith, a Brownite, launched a strong attack on the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, for his lukewarm endorsement of Mr Brown during last week's rebellion.

She said: "I think David Miliband is probably finished as a potential leadership candidate. There's no contest. Gordon Brown is the person. He's our Prime Minister and he's going to lead us into the next election.

"But at any future stage – it may be many years off – if there is a leadership election, I think people will remember David Miliband, and he hasn't covered himself in a glory. I think he's behaved in quite an immature way," she said.

Mr Brown shared the platform last night with Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson and the International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, who will all play key election roles.

Appealing for loyalty and unity, Lord Mandelson told the PLP: "We are a good team, we work closely, and we are not going to allow others to insert wedges between us. People who have fought elections as a team and won elections as a team. And we are not planning to break that record now."

The Business Secretary acknowledged the need for a "change of gear" to ensure "loyalty". Labour could also change gear because "the country feels increasing confidence that we are coming through to the other side" of the recession, he said.

Admitting that the public mood is uncertain, Lord Mandelson said: "Our job therefore is to give leadership. A sense of can-do optimism. Not false promises. But a sense of real, concrete purpose – of belief in our country."

Mr Brown sought to move on from Labour's internal rows by directing his fire at David Cameron's call for 2010 to be a "year of change." He told his MPs: "The choice at the election will not be between change and no change. It will be between the right kind of change and the wrong kind of change."

*A Populus poll for The Times today shows Labour has fallen to 28 points, 13 behind the Tories on 41. It is their worst poll showing since September.