Third MP out of job over challenge to Brown

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Indy Politics

A Labour MP has left his post as a special envoy for Gordon Brown after calling for a challenge to the Prime Minister's leadership.

Barry Gardiner, who was the special envoy on forestry, had joined other backbenchers in asking for nomination papers to trigger a leadership contest to be sent to MPs ahead of next week's party conference.

Mr Brown's spokesman told reporters that the Brent North MP had been removed from his post "by mutual consent" over the weekend.

His departure from the post follows the sacking of junior whip Siobhain McDonagh and party vice-chair Joan Ryan after they questioned Mr Brown's leadership.

In a press article yesterday, Mr Gardiner revealed that he had asked for nomination papers to be sent out to Labour MPs.

He said: "The public has stopped listening to Gordon Brown. He is not a popular Prime Minister, but he would continue to have my support if he showed sound judgment, international leadership and political vision.

"Instead we have vacillation, loss of international credibility and timorous political manoeuvres that the public cannot understand."

He joined around a dozen Labour MPs who went public about their misgivings, including former ministers Fiona Mactaggart, George Howarth, Frank Field and Peter Kilfoyle.

Mr Brown's spokesman insisted that the Prime Minister was not being distracted by the continued speculation about his future.

"What the Prime Minister is doing is concentrating on the issues that matter to the country - the situation in the economy, what is happening in the financial markets, Northern Ireland and crime," said the spokesman.

He is due to attend a pre-conference meeting of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee in London tomorrow, when the issue of whether nomination papers should be sent out is to be discussed.

Rebels require 20 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party - or 71 MPs - to nominate a challenger to trigger a leadership election.

But Labour's general secretary, Ray Collins, has refused to distribute nomination papers, in keeping with the convention of the last 11 years that they are only sent out to individual MPs upon request.

Cabinet ministers David Miliband and John Hutton yesterday voiced their support for the Prime Minister.

But Mr Hutton declined to condemn MPs who openly questioned Mr Brown's performance, saying: "I'm not going to criticise any of my colleagues who want Labour to do better and neither am I going to criticise those who say, for example, that we do need to set out a stronger vision of what we are doing."

Labour MEP for the North East Stephen Hughes said there was "an argument" for Mr Brown stepping aside for a new leader, but said he did not believe it would happen.

Mr Hughes told the Newcastle Journal: "Gordon is going through a very, very difficult period. I think nevertheless he will remain leader until the next election.

"What happens after that depends on the result. We are not the Tories, we don't stab our leaders in the back.

"I think probably for the sake of the party there is an argument that he should hand over to an alternative leader. But there is no guarantee that the party would start to pick up with a new leader."

Veteran Labour MP for Blyth Valley Ronnie Campbell denounced the plotters as "stupid" and said the party would fare no better under Foreign Secretary Mr Miliband, widely tipped as the most likely potential successor.

Mr Campbell told the paper: "I think they are stupid. They haven't thought it out. If you think we can get away with three Prime Ministers in three years, we are as bad as Newcastle United. It is stupid, we cannot do it.

"It is not a British recession, it is a world recession, and Miliband hasn't got any magic answers and neither has anybody else in the Labour Party."

Mr Brown's spokesman confirmed today that the PM met his predecessor Lady Thatcher at his country retreat Chequers over the weekend for what he described as "a long-standing planned lunch, which was private".