Pre-conference double blow hits Brown

Gordon Brown has been dealt a double blow to his authority just days before the start of Labour’s crucial annual conference.

The Prime Minister faced renewed calls to stand down as leader from the former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, while he was also rocked by the resignation of a Government aide over Baroness Scotland’s breach of immigration laws.

Mr Clarke, a leading critic of the Prime Minister within Labour’s ranks, called on Mr Brown to step down “for his own dignity” as he delivered a damning assessment of the party’s prospects if a new leader was not installed.

He said that Labour had been overtaken by a “sense of impending defeat” and could lose as many as 150 seats, a result that could leave the party deeply divided and wallowing on the opposition benches for a generation. “Are we just going to stand by and watch the whole Labour ship crash on to the rocks of May 2010?” he said. “Those who believe there is some kind of pendulum where we go out this year and come back next are completely and utterly wrong.”

In a speech delivered last night, Mr Clarke said that many in his party were “failing to face up to the grave situation” which Labour faced in the polls. “Our leadership is weak, uncertain, tactically unsure and lacks vision,” he said. “A resounding defeat of the type many predict if we fail to change our approach would lead to a real collapse of our Party, which would have few resources and all the potential for bitter internecine conflict following defeat.”

The broadside came as Stephen Hesford, an aide to the Government’s law officers, quit the post in protest at the Attorney General’s breach of immigration laws that she had been responsible for guiding through Parliament. Lady Scotland was fined £5,000 after employing a Tongan housekeeper who had no right to work in the UK, but was allowed to keep her job by Mr Brown. In his letter of resignation to the Prime Minister, Mr Hesford said that though he had “great personal regard” for Baroness Scotland, he could not “support the decision which allows her to remain in office”.

“In my view the facts of the case do not matter,” Mr Hesford said. “It is the principle which counts, particularly at a time when the public's trust of Whitehall is uncertain to say the least. We have to be seen to be accountable.” It is the latest in a string of low level resignations that have chipped away at Mr Brown’s authority. Eric Joyce resigned over the Government’s strategy in Afghanistan last month, while other aides have resigned over the treatment of the Gurkhas and the decision to push ahead with a third runway at Heathrow.

However, the Prime Minister brushed off the questions over his leadership. “Of course I’m going on,” he said in an interview with the New Statesman. “I mean, for goodness sake, I wouldn’t be having this interview with you if I wasn't determined to get my message across to the British people. I hope that people will see by my actions the determination I have to work not just on behalf of the Labour Party but on the behalf of the British people.”