Rebel MPs plot anti-Brown protest at conference

Rebel Labour MPs who want to oust Gordon Brown are secretly discussing plans for at least one minister to speak out against the leadership before the party's conference in Manchester. He or she would then have to resign, undermining the Prime Minister's attempt to stabilise his position.

Another tactic being discussed is for a wave of resignations by ministers outside the Cabinet after the conference, at least three of whom are said to be considering their positions, and their parliamentary private secretaries. That would echo the so-called "curry house plot" by Brownites two years ago, when resignations forced Tony Blair to reveal his departure timetable.

However, Brown allies dismissed the threat, accusing a handful of MPs of trying to "destabilise" the Prime Minister so that they could claim he could no longer do his job effectively. Cabinet ministers who have doubts about Mr Brown are appealing to the rebels to call a truce so that Labour can unite at its conference. But the rebels made clear that they will not be silenced.

Even Brown loyalists are not giving him unconditional support. Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, told the BBC that there was no significant support for a rival candidate, but admitted the idea that Mr Brown should carry on regardless was "not a universal view – a number have spoken out in recent days – but I am not convinced it is the right time".

Today, Labour's ruling national executive committee (NEC) will stave off one potential threat to the Prime Minister by rejecting calls by 12 MPs for all Labour MPs to be given nomination papers for a party leadership contest. Rebels had requested papers in the hope of staging a "vote of no confidence" in Mr Brown even if they fail to muster the 70 MPs needed for a named alternative to force a leadership election.

Ray Collins, Labour's general secretary, will say that such forms have not been issued since the party came to power in 1997, and so there is no case to change the policy now.

Janet Anderson, who represents Labour MPs on the NEC, will call for the nomination papers to be sent out, saying this is in line with the party's rulebook. She said yesterday: "We cannot go on 'sleepwalking to oblivion', but we are and we will continue to do so if we do nothing to address the reasons why we have been so far behind in the polls. That means a root-and-branch review of our policies and how we communicate this to voters. And if that requires a change of leadership, so be it."

Another critic, Barry Gardiner, lost his job as Mr Brown's special envoy on forestry after accusing him of "vacillation, loss of credibility and timorous political manoeuvres that the public cannot understand".

But Margaret Beckett, the former cabinet minister, warned: "The British people will neither understand nor forgive a party that appears to be more concerned with its own internal disputes than with their very real problems." John Denham, the Skills Secretary, accused the rebels of pursuing "the politics of despair and destruction" and said they would not persuade him or other cabinet ministers to move against Mr Brown.