The leaders: Activists threaten rebellion as Brown helps secure seat for ally

Nottingham councillors up in arms as Labour takes control of candidate selection

Gordon Brown took almost an hour out of the fight for his political future, to help secure a safe seat for one of his closest allies.

The Prime Minister, who is engaged in the closest election campaign for almost two decades, attended a special meeting last week to rubber-stamp proposals to impose a shortlist on a constituency that will, in effect, secure a seat for a close political friend.

The former MP Chris Leslie, who ran Mr Brown's leadership campaign in 2007, is now expected to replace John Heppell as Labour's candidate in Nottingham East early this week.

Mr Brown voted at the 45-minute meeting, which activated rules stating that Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) can wrest control of the selection process from a local party if a candidate stands down close to the election campaign. The decision threatens to plunge Labour into another damaging internal row over NEC interference in local party politics, after the television historian Tristram Hunt was chosen as the candidate in Stoke-on-Trent Central earlier this month.

One Nottingham councillor is now urging colleagues to resist the "imposition" of a candidate from the centre. Local officials had expected at least three senior councillors, including the council leader Jon Collins, to be in the running to replace Mr Heppell, who last month announced he was standing down to help his wife fight cancer.

But Mr Brown's personal intervention at the NEC's special selections panel last week appears to have guaranteed the shortlist will be dominated by "outsiders", notably Mr Leslie, who lost his seat in Shipley, Yorkshire, in 2005.

While David Cameron and Nick Clegg toured the country on Thursday, Mr Brown was in London, where he is believed to have spoken at the meeting, and used his vote to ensure the selection process is taken out of the local party's hands. "It was unusual for him to attend a meeting like that, but to exert such an influence over it was extraordinary," a senior Labour figure said last night.

Graham Chapman, a Nottingham city councillor, has emailed members of the constituency party encouraging them to sign a petition against the imposition of a "national" candidate.

John Taylor, a former city council leader, said: "Nottingham East needs an easy, safe win for Labour at the election.... The surest way to achieve that is to select a highly credible, well-known, well-respected local candidate. Anything else is a huge mistake." Another Labour councillor, David Mellen, said: "There could have been a quick process where a shortlist was drawn up by the NEC and the constituency voted on it."

The Labour Party said local officials would be consulted over the shortlist, which closes today. Interviews will be held on Tuesday or Wednesday. A spokesperson said: "We have invited people to express an interest in standing as candidates in Nottingham East and in the coming days, in consultation with the local party, we will move to the next stage in selecting a candidate."

Still looking for a seat

Quentin Davies Grantham & Stamford MP who became a Labour defence minister after defecting from Tories. Needs safe new berth.

Mark Seddon Left-winger, former NEC member and editor of Tribune, who railed against the party machine when he failed to get on the shortlist in Stoke Central.

Jonathan Ashworth A Brown adviser who was favourite to take the nomination in Nottingham East. Will have to look elsewhere, if Chris Leslie is parachuted in.

Patrick Diamond Protégé of Lord Mandelson and Downing St adviser. Co-writing party manifesto.

Rachael Maskell A national officer with the Unite union, Labour's major source of funding. Was expected to apply for Nottingham East vacancy, but now may have to look elsewhere.

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