Labour NEC dismisses leadership contest calls

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Indy Politics

Labour party heavyweights rallied round Prime Minister Gordon Brown today as the party's ruling executive rejected calls by dissident members for a leadership contest.

Chancellor Alistair Darling told BBC radio he had "every confidence" in Brown, while former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said there was "nobody better" to be in charge of the country.

"When ... there are very serious international concerns about the economy, I really don't think most people will think we should be wanting to spend time on discussing whether we should have a different prime minister," Becket told the BBC.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith added her support, telling Sky News that Brown put his credentials to the test "every single day" to make Britain a better place.

Brown has failed to quell a growing chorus of dissent within his own party at the way he has led the country since taking over as prime minister from Tony Blair in June last year.

The BBC said one previously loyal government minister was considering resigning over Brown's leadership.

The broadcaster quoted the unnamed politician as saying: "There just comes a point where you say 'I can't go on lying.' You can't go on saying I think Gordon Brown is going to lead us to victory, when you don't believe it."

After a series of crushing election reverses and with Labour trailing the Conservatives in the polls by 20 points, Labour politicians are increasingly questioning whether Brown has what it takes to lead a country on the verge of recession.

Labour MP Fiona MacTaggart, one of 12 dissidents members of parliament calling for a leadership contest, said party leaders had been acting "like ostriches" with their heads in the sand hoping that things would get better

"That is not now possible", she told BBC radio.

Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), as expected, rejected requests to send out leadership nomination forms.

"The NEC will not be sending out nomination papers," a Labour Party spokeswoman said.

Brown has already fired three Labour MPs in the space of four days for disloyalty after they called for a leadership challenge.

The rebellion has comes a week before Labour's annual conference in Manchester, and has sabotaged Brown's attempts to relaunch his premiership after the credit crunch and rising prices sent his popularity plummeting.

Labour rebels had demanded demanding that nomination forms for a leadership ballot be sent to all members of parliament before the conference.

They need 71 signatures to trigger a contest.