PM 'small-minded' over Brown's bid for IMF job

David Cameron and George Osborne have been branded "petty and small-minded" for rejecting Gordon Brown's bid to become head of the International Monetary Fund.

Sir James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, heaped praise on the ex-chancellor and prime minister for leading the world through the financial crisis in 2009. He said: "Gordon Brown has proved that he has the leadership skills, the vision and the determination to bring the world together."

Writing in the London Evening Standard, Sir James said: "All candidates being considered have great talent but for me there is no greater candidate than Gordon Brown."

Mr Cameron made clear last month the Government would not endorse Mr Brown on the grounds he ran up a massive public deficit while in power. Mr Osborne confirmed at the weekend that Britain is backing the French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the IMF's managing director.

Privately, senior Conservatives admit that they have no desire to "rehabilitate" Mr Brown because that could undermine their attempt to blame Britain's deficit on alleged overspending by Labour rather than the global crisis. It could also jeopardise the Tories' prospects of winning an overall majority at the next general election. They are likely to portray Ed Miliband and the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls as the "sons of Brown".

With European countries rallying behind Ms Lagarde, Mr Brown is very much an outsider in the race for the IMF job. But the Government is facing a backlash for scuppering his prospects.

Lord Skidelsky, the cross-bench peer and economic historian, said he was astonished the Government ruled out Mr Brown so early in the process. "He certainly should have been one of the leading candidates. It is absolutely scandalous the British government is not putting him forward – in fact, it has done the reverse and made it clear that it would oppose him. He is incredibly well qualified. It seems to me very small-minded and petty."

Tom Watson, a Labour MP and close ally of Mr Brown, asked: "Whatever happened to the notion of country before party? What are Osborne and Cameron playing at? Other countries would never duck a chance to get one of their ex-prime ministers into a position of major international influence."

Although in theory Mr Brown could have been nominated for the IMF job without the support of his own nation, his hopes were effectively torpedoed last month when Mr Cameron dismissed him as "someone who didn't think we had a debt problem". Cameron aides insisted that there was no plot to block Mr Brown, and that the Prime Minister was merely giving a straight answer in a radio interview.

Mr Brown hosted a successful G20 summit in London in 2009 which backed a global stimulus, and his rescue of the banks was widely copied around the world. Although he has reminded world leaders of his credentials for the IMF post in recent weeks, he has failed to win the crucial backing of either the United States, France or Germany.

Candidates are due to be announced on 10 June with a final decision announced later in the month. Some emerging nations want to break with the long tradition of the IMF post going to a European and one candidate is Agustin Carstens, governor of Mexico's central bank. However, Ms Lagarde is seen as the front-runner and the crisis in the eurozone has strengthened the case for the job to remain in European hands for now.