An attempt by John Prescott to rally support for Gordon Brown backfired after he compared the Prime Minister to the captain of the Titanic.
The former deputy prime minister's gaffe came as Blairite dissidents signalled a temporary ceasefire in their attempts to remove Mr Brown from office.
The Prime Minister's enemies are to keep their powder dry until the end of the month, but one predicted that September was set to be a "dramatic political month".
But attempts on both sides to lower the temperature over Mr Brown's leadership took a farcical turn in a rare blog by Mr Prescott on the Labourhome website. Referring to a party member who he had talked to about "getting a new captain", he said: "I always find it interesting when people use maritime analogies when they talk about leadership. But it wasn't the captain that sank the Titanic – a ship they claimed was unsinkable – it was the iceberg. The best way to avoid disaster is to manage your way around the problem."
Mr Prescott added: "Speaking as someone who's served on a ship and in a leadership, the best person to steer us through is a captain with the experience to navigate through these stormy financial global seas."
Rebel MPs are now intending to keep their counsel until the end of August, when Mr Brown returns to his Downing Street desk. They yesterday said they had decided to "put the brakes" on any further moves for the moment and said suggestions that a "blitz" of policy suggestions from former ministers such as Stephen Byers, Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke over the next few weeks were wide of the mark.
One senior party figure said: "We all need a period of calm throughout August."
Blairites also attempted to play down a leaked memo said to have been written by the former prime minister lamenting his successor's flawed leadership.
They confirmed its authenticity, but stressed it was written last September after the Labour conference and did not reflect his view today. One theory in Westminster last night was that the memo could have been written by Lord Gould of Brookwood, Mr Blair's former pollster.
The first details of Mr Brown's fightback next month emerged as Downing Street announced he would hold his first cabinet meeting on 8 September.
He has chosen to travel out of London for the session with his top team – who are likely to have emerged from a cabinet reshuffle the week before – in the West Midlands.
Downing Street said the point of leaving Westminster to hold the meeting was to engage with the public. A spokesman said: "We feel it is consistent with the Government's approach that it wants to listen and learn from the experiences of people in this country."
Tackling "fuel poverty" is now top of the agenda for the Prime Minister, who is devoting some of his time on holiday in Suffolk to planning his fightback.
Alistair Darling has this week taken over from Harriet Harman as the minister in London who is responsible for "co-ordinating Government activity".
Pressed on whether the Prime Minister still had confidence in the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose article last week was seen as a brazen attempt to stake his claim for the leadership, the spokesman replied: "Er ... the ... yes."Reuse content