PM in crisis: Make-or-break Monday

Rebels plan new push against Brown within next 24 hours while Blears ponders Howe moment and Labour faces Euro poll meltdown

Mary Dejevsky
Wednesday 23 September 2015 11:40

Gordon Brown faces a critical 24 hours to save his premiership, as Labour rebels threatened a second wave of attacks designed to unseat him from power.

Labour is predicted to come fourth – a record low – when the European election results are announced today, after the most dangerous week of Mr Brown's political life.

Rebels are tomorrow planning to publish a list of MPs who want Mr Brown to go – with 71 names enough to trigger a leadership contest.

With a make-or-break Monday looming, the Prime Minister attempted to rise above the danger back home yesterday when he attended D-Day commemorations in Normandy. He evoked the "Crisis? What crisis?" spirit of James Callaghan when he tried to dismiss the attempted coup as the normal "ups and downs in politics".

No 10 sources last night claimed the rebels' plans were "fizzling out" after a turbulent Friday reshuffle and questioned whether they would have more than a few dozen names.

But there was more bad news for Mr Brown following a poll that showed fewer than half of Labour's grassroots activists want him to lead them into the next election, with one in five urging him to quit immediately. The YouGov poll for Channel 4 News found that one in three thought they stood no chance of winning the election if Mr Brown remained as leader. Leaked emails today show Lord Mandelson, who helped preserve Mr Brown's position, last year labelled him "insecure", "self-conscious" and "angry".

Last night, Hazel Blears, the former communities secretary, was preparing a devastating resignation statement in the House of Commons, which could draw comparisons with Geoffrey Howe's assault on Margaret Thatcher three weeks before she was forced out in November 1990. Friends said Ms Blears, who quit last week but has so far not publicly attacked the Prime Minister, wants to "have her say" in a statement from the back benches. She may be prevented from making the bombshell statement if her resignation is deemed to be part of the cabinet reshuffle, but a friend said: "She wants to do it."

Labour sources predicted that the party would come fourth, behind the Tories, Ukip and the Liberal Democrats, when the results of last Thursday's European elections are announced tonight.

Mr Brown survived last week's turmoil, despite the resignations of five cabinet ministers and seven members of the Government. More ministers could quit tomorrow when he completes his reshuffle of the junior ranks.

When Mr Brown's arrival time was announced in Normandy yesterday, a small number of Second World War veterans booed. But speaking to reporters earlier, the Prime Minister said: "In these unprecedented times you are bound to have ups and downs in politics."

There were signs of recriminations among Blairites last night over the resignation of James Purnell on Thursday. Anger was directed at his colleagues, including David Miliband and John Hutton, for failing to follow the former work and pensions secretary over the top. Mr Hutton resigned but was said to have "bottled out" of criticising Mr Brown.

Mr Purnell told friends he would not sign the letter organised by rebels calling on Mr Brown to go because he had "done [his] bit". He has also ruled himself out of becoming Labour leader, even if Mr Brown falls.

Supporters of Mr Purnell believed Mr Miliband, who was informed of his bombshell decision to resign and call on the premier to quit three hours in advance, had "left him dangling".

Ironically, the influence of both Lord Mandelson and Tony Blair was a key factor in averting the coup against their one-time enemy Mr Brown. Lord Mandelson led the phone calls to Mr Miliband and other Blairite ministers late on Thursday to persuade them not to jump. And Mr Blair telephoned Mr Brown on Thursday offering encouragement to the Prime Minister.

Lord Mandelson, who is now the deputy prime minister in all but name after the cabinet reshuffle he effectively orchestrated, was "shocked and upset" at Mr Purnell's decision to quit. He found out seconds before it broke on Sky News shortly before 10pm on Thursday. Yesterday, the Business Secretary made clear Mr Purnell's isolation when he said of his leadership ambitions: "I think he's written himself out and I regret that."

Will he survive? The obstacles ahead


Results of European elections. A bad result for Labour could trigger a second wave of rebellion against Mr Brown.

Monday 8 June

Mr Brown will address a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The rebels are planning to use this event to make it clear he should go. An email with a list of names calling on him to step down is likely to be released.

Progress, the Blairite think-tank, will hold a debate in Portcullis House on the future of the Labour Party, with rebels Caroline Flint and Stephen Byers.

Wednesday 10 June

Mr Brown's first Prime Minister's Questions since James Purnell's resignation.

24 July

Glasgow North East by-election. Fight for the seat vacated by Speaker Michael Martin is expected to see Labour defeated by the SNP. A second by-election is due in Norwich North after Ian Gibson quit in fury at being banned over his expenses. Labour could lose to the Tories.


Long summer holiday away from Westminster has proved to be perfect plotting time – last year David Miliband caused trouble for Mr Brown


Labour Party conference. Armed with the signatures of more than 70 MPs, the rebels could force a vote to trigger a leadership election.

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