Minister warns rebels there is no alternative to Brown

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Scottish Secretary Des Browne today warned potential Labour rebels there was no alternative to Gordon Brown's leadership.

The imminent Labour conference would provide the opportunity for turning the party's fortunes around by persuading voters it had the right policies for running the country, said Mr Browne.

He insisted: "There is no alternative leadership, there is no alternative agenda.

"And there is no one in the political landscape of this country who is better qualified to lead us through these difficult times than the man who is presently prime minister."

He was speaking as speculation persisted that David Cairns' decision to quit as minister of state at the Scotland Office could be followed by other resignations.

Mr Cairns quit yesterday, saying it was "hardly credible" to deny leadership and direction had become an issue and that the time had come to take the "bull by the horns" and allow a leadership debate to take its course.

Mr Browne told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland he "deeply regretted" his departure but Mr Cairns was wrong about Gordon Brown.

"He has shown in the most difficult and turbulent economic circumstances that most people can remember that he has a strategy, and it has to be an international strategy, to lead us through these current difficulties, while at the same time showing he understands the effect these very difficult circumstances have on the people of this country," said Mr Browne.

It was wrong to say Labour had not faced the leadership issue as the party's National Executive Committee had yesterday given "overwhelming" support and the Cabinet had given the Prime Minister unanimous support, he said.

"While it is undoubtedly the case that people have other views, the party's position is that we should support our Prime Minister in government."

It was also important to "expose" the absence of any alternative agenda from other parties.

"We have had, in the last number of weeks, any opportunity for those who put forward an alternative to what we are doing to spell that out, and they have singularly failed to do so because there is no alternative way of dealing with these issues which are creating the circumstances of the discontent," said Mr Browne.

He went on: "What will turn our party's fortunes around is when we have an opportunity to spell out to people, as we will next week, the agenda that we have in some detail and subjected to some scrutiny in the context of our party conference, and when we persuade people that that is the right agenda."

Mr Browne said he detected on a visit to Glenrothes a "significant amount of support" for Labour, as well as an understanding of the global nature of the challenges.

He said that by the time he and Mr Cairns spoke yesterday, there was public speculation about what Mr Cairns had said in private.

"At the end of those conversations, David Cairns came to the view which he expressed in a letter to the Prime Minister," he said.

"He set it out very clearly.

"He takes responsibility for the fact that the words he spoke privately got into the public domain, and that they revealed he was in a state of mind where he could not continue in conscience in government and hold to public responsibility."