Rebels put the revolution on hold – for now

Labour's insurgents plan to strike again after European poll results

For a fleeting moment, as news of James Purnell's resignation broke on Thursday night, rebel ringleaders had dared to believe their time had come.

After watching the News at Ten, one leading dissident predicted then that a stream of Cabinet members would follow the Work and Pensions Secretary out the door today. Would it be Alan Johnson? David Miliband? Andy Burnham? John Hutton?

But the exodus of ministerial heavyweights never materialised and last night even the Prime Minister's bitterest enemies admitted the Cabinet reshuffle had bought him more time.

The rebels are now holding their fire until Monday when MPs return to Westminster after tomorrow's declaration of the European election results, in which Labour is universally expected to have performed dismally.

The expected rout in the polls – the party could limp in fourth behind the UK Independence Party in the popular vote – will be used by the rebels in an attempt to win support for a "Gordon must go" letter.

Some are also threatening to demand his resignation when the Prime Minister addresses the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting on Monday, while former Cabinet Ministers Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke are expected to speak against Mr Brown in two days' time.

Arch-Blairite Stephen Byers, the former Transport Secretary, speaking publicly for the first time about the leadership crisis, said that Monday could make or break Mr Brown's fortunes.

"I think on Monday Labour MPs will be considering a very important question – is Gordon Brown a winner or is Gordon Brown a loser? Can Gordon Brown lead Labour to an election victory when the general election is called or will he lead us to defeat?"

The plotters aim to spend much of the weekend assessing exact levels of support. They insist their plan remains to send a letter on Monday evening demanding Mr Brown's resignation if they can persuade 50 MPs to go public. One admitted it was a high hurdle to clear and added: "The letter will not be sent if we get 45."

One key figure in the rebellion claimed: "People from the centre of the party are firming up against Brown. Within the backbenches there's a majority of opposition to him." But he admitted: "The question is whether that can be focused."

Another said: "Many Labour MPs are convinced Gordon must go. He may have bought some time... but we will resume the fight on Monday."

The MP insisted they had received messages of support from scores of defeated Labour councillors who blamed their defeat on Gordon Brown's huge unpopularity with voters. But they have been reminded over the last 36 hours of the ferocity and determination of the team around Gordon Brown, with rumours circulating of dissidents falling victim to No 10's "black arts".

One dissident MP has been warned that there were as yet undisclosed embarrassing mistakes in his expenses claims; others report being variously dismissed as "maverick", "Blairite" and "hard-Left" by Brown loyalists.

Barry Sheerman, a veteran MP and select committee chairman who has called for a secret vote on Mr Brown's leadership, said senior members of his Huddersfield constituency party had been contacted by No 10 urging them to hold a meeting with the MP to discuss his remarks.

Two other MPs claimed they had been falsely named as plotters by Downing Street in an attempt to "smoke out" the conspirators. A briefing note sent yesterday to MPs by Labour HQ on how to answer difficult questions gives the go-ahead for them to pour scorn over James Purnell. It insists the "whole Cabinet" found his resignation "surprising and disappointing" and the "last thing they would have wanted to see".

It also encourages them to portray the outgoing Work and Pensions Secretary as politically naive by describing him as "still in the early stages of his career".

The rebellion fizzled rather that fizzed as a handful of backbenchers went public with their private criticism of Mr Brown. The Newcastle-under-Lyme MP, Paul Farrelly, said: "There have been too many mistakes and misjudgement over the last two years. In the interests of the country and the Labour party, I think Gordon must really consider his position."

Meg Munn, a former Foreign Office Minister, said: "He's done a great job on the economy, but other issues are not being put across well. We are not seeing the sort of leadership which I think this country now needs." She was followed by veteran left-winger Mark Fisher who protested: "There is no stability in the Government and the time is right for him to stand down."

Paul Flynn, the Newport West MP, turned to his blog to plead for Mr Brown to bow out. He wrote: "For the sake of the millions who benefit from the work of the Labour Party in government, we must select a new national leader."

Downing Street could draw comfort from the apparently random pattern of attacks on Mr Brown's leadership. They were also relieved that a new Cabinet was in place by the end of the day, locking potential troublemakers in place.

While Gordon Brown travels today to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations, his allies are preparing to contact those backbenchers they suspect are wavering in their support for the Prime Minister.

Their key message to potential dissenters will be that a change of leader now will lead to unstoppable pressure for a general election – and the near-certainty that they will lose their seats in a Labour meltdown.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss