Left wing would oppose Brown candidacy

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Gordon Brown will face a challenge for the leadership of the Labour Party when Tony Blair steps down, a leading left-wing Labour MP said last night.

Gordon Brown will face a challenge for the leadership of the Labour Party when Tony Blair steps down, a leading left-wing Labour MP said last night.

Alan Simpson, the chairman of the Labour Against the War campaign, has emerged as the most likely candidate to challenge Mr Brown.

Mr Simpson, the MP for Nottingham South and a leading member of the left-wing Campaign Group of Labour MPs, has not yet thrown his hat in the ring, but last night said the left would not allow a "shoo-in" for Mr Brown without a contest.

Mr Simpson said: "If Blair stood down, the left would certainly challenge any presumption of a shoo-in and would field a candidate against Brown.

"Brown embodies the central issues that the left would challenge for the leadership: peace rather than war; universal welfare rather than means testing; the control of markets on the grounds of environmental sustainability; and a fundamental shift of public investment over private finance initiatives."

It is believed that Mr Brown warned Mr Blair against announcing his intention to stand down during his leadership "wobble" in the early summer because he feared a challenge from the left.

Mr Brown's allies are furious that Mr Blair has promoted Alan Milburn to take over the election strategy from the Chancellor. But with Mr Brown in mourning this week over the death of his mother, his allies are playing down the prospect of renewed clashes at the Labour Party conference.

The Brown camp has now shelved hopes of replacing Mr Blair before the election. However, a double documentary by Michael Cockerell to be screened on BBC2 on Saturday, the eve of the conference, is expected to add further criticismofMr Blair's leadership, particularly over his support for the war on Iraq.

It may also reopen the wounds over the supposedly agreed succession between Mr Blair and Mr Brown.

In the documentaries, the writer and historian Lady Antonia Fraser, whose husband, the playwright Harold Pinter, has campaigned vigorously against the war, says of Mr Blair: "I think he is an interesting man who began very well and is on a sort of Shakespearean slide downwards."

The comedian Harry Enfield says: "I am totally anti-Tony Blair now, mainly because of the war. I don't believe he believed the intelligence [on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction]. I think if he'd had to stake the lives of his children on the reliability of that evidence, he wouldn't have done it. But he did stake the lives of a lot of Iraqis and British servicemen."

The impressionist Rory Bremner compares believing in the Prime Minister to believing in God. He says: "I think there's a sort of religious aspect to it and I think you want to believe in Tony Blair.

"But rather like if you want to believe in God, there are times when he [Blair] makes it very, very difficult to believe."

The documentaries, called Do You Still Believe in Tony? and Friends and Neighbours, quote Mr Brown's former adviser, Charlie Whelan, as saying that the Chancellor has never used the expression "New Labour". Mr Whelan says Mr Brown and Mr Blair are even divided over television: Mr Blair likes The West Wing but Mr Brown is a devotee of Friends.