Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Brown Facing Backbench Revolt

New Year, New Revolt! - Updated

Former Ministers Geoff Hoon MP and Patricia Hewitt MP began a campaign today to remove Prime Minister Gordon Brown by calling for a ballot of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Just as Labour seemed to be uniting in the final months before a General Election, Mr. Hoon and Mrs. Hewitt were, according to the BBC's Nick Robinson, reportedly texting other Labour MPs furiously requesting a secret Ballot on Gordon Brown's leadership.

My Conservative Future colleague, Simon Cavalier-Jones on The Conservative Blog broke the story, beating both the BBC and Sky.

In the early moments of this plot it was hard to judge what level of support the revolt had, but as the minutes turned to hours further details emerged. If they could get enough support and momentum behind them it could be the end of Gordon Brown's Premiership.

Veteran backbencher, Frank Field MP became the first Labour parliamentarian to come out and back the Hoon/Hewitt campaign (ConservativeHome calling it the SnowStorm Plot), hotly followed by former Labour Home Secretary, and perennial revoltee Charles Clarke MP.

A letter due for publication in tonight's London Evening Standard from Mrs. Hewitt and Mr. Hoon, set out the basis for the challenge - that they feel the issue of leadership and internal briefings is undermining the party.

Patricia Hewitt MP on the BBC Radio 4's World at One said:

"I have not spoken to David [Miliband] about this. I have not spoken to any cabinet member about this. This is not an attempted coup it is exactly what we say on the letter.

"It could be done very, very quickly it could actually be done next Monday with the result declared at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting that happens every Monday."

One hour into the news breaking Paul Waugh of the London Evening Standard was blogging about a rumours of a potential resignation by disgruntled cabinet minister, Theresa Jowell MP, yesterday evening. The trade union, Unite, called on Mr. Brown's challengers to drop their 'divisive and damaging' call for a ballot. Geraldine Smith MP, slammed the letter as a 'cowards charter' and the plotters as 'spineless'.

"I think it's a cowards charter and I think they are out of touch with a lot of Labour MP... What angers me is that the people involved are so spineless."
Ms Smith claimed there were few Labour MPs involved in the plan.

"They were huddled together [last night] in a little corner and I'd say there are no more than 10 to 20 people involved in this."
This was quickly followed by Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles Calling for a General Election declaring

"We can't go on like this."
At 13:51 Sky News reported that Gordon Brown might be turning to unlikely sources for help amid the crisis. Sky's Glen Oglaza tweets that Henry Winkler (a.k.a. The Fonz from Happy Days) just entered Downing Street.

David Blunkett, another former Labour Home Secretary is reported as saying:

"It is not possible according to our party's rules, it is not wanted by the PLP and, what is more, it is not needed."
Two hours into the crisis beginning Andy Burnham MP is the fist Labour Minister to decry the Hoon/Hewett campaign. Minuted later Mrs. Hewitt appears on Sky News saying:

"There is division on this issue, it is weakening us.

"We've had months punctuated by public calls for the prime minister to go, by resignations, by speculation, by private worries. I've had people in my constituency who strongly support the prime minister by want the issue resolved."
Barry Sheerman emerged at a quarter past two and tells the BBC that Gordon Brown cannot call for loyalty from Labour MPs after failing to show loyalty to Tony Blair:

"My loyalty is to my principles, my moral principles, my political principles, to my country and then to my party and I don't need anyone who undermined the previous Prime Minister and who was utterly disloyal telling me that I am disloyal,"
He also rejected claims that a secret ballot of MPs was against Labour party rules, insisting it was necessary to give backbenchers a say on the matter

."I understand there is no barrier for us to have a secret ballot otherwise why have the Parliamentary Labour Party? It's not only the place where the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers perform on a Monday night and the backbenchers have no voice at all.

"That is what caused frustration over this last period that the Parliamentary Labour Party has been manipulated by Gordon Brown and by the whips to stop us having an open discussion and having a vote."
Margaret Beckett weighs in with:

"I take the view that it’s a complete diversion, a waste of time, a big mistake, and should be ignored."
Asked what she would say to the Prime Minister if she were to speak to him she says:

"I would probably tell him fairly robustly to tell them where to go."
As the three hour mark of this crisis reared it's head John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw bemoaned the call for a secret ballot on Gordon Brown’s leadership as 'self indulgence by two pompous idiots'. He said that Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt were 'serial plotters' adding 'these two have got previous, they attempted to backstab Blair, now they’re trying to backstab Brown'.

He claimed that Geoff Hoon was acting out of 'sour grapes' having not got a job in Europe and added:

"I’d like to take him into a back room and sort it out with him, because that is what he needs."
He went on to accuse Patricia Hewitt of 'raking in the money' from the private sector. He said she’s

"been raking in money from the private sector using her contact book, and that’s totally unacceptable."
At a quarter past three Nick Robinson reads a text message from Lord Mandelson:

"This is a complete overreaction, these people are not members of the government, no-one is resigning from the government."
Shortly thereafter Transport Minister, Sadiq Khan MP backs Gordon Brown's leadership.

Three and a half hours into the crisis senior cabinet minister, Ed Balls MP, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, dismissed the call for a secret ballot as a 'damp squib' and insists the cabinet is backing Gordon Brown.

"The government, the cabinet, the Labour party is fully behind Gordon Brown. He's the best leader to take us into the general election, he's also the best person to take the country through the global downturn."
Former minister Tony McNulty MP offers his take on both the weather and the challenge to Gordon Brown's leadership, claiming the plot

"will be as fleeting as the melting snow outside"
He should probably see the snow which has begun to accumulate by a magnitude.

A quarter to five and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman MP, finally speaks: "

I was dismayed to hear in the early hours of this morning that once again there was a fire blazing in Camberwell and that residents were being evacuated from their homes. I have, once again, conveyed my thanks to the local fire brigade and also the police, council officers and volunteers who worked together to help the residents who had to be rushed out of their homes. Thankfully there were no injuries but this is the third serious fire in Camberwell within the last year and I am greatly concerned about it…."
So nothing about the Leadership of the Labour Party. certainly think so and have promoted Ms Harman to the favourite position to launch a leadership bid.

As hour five began to dawned Sky News devlivered a statement from Chncellor, Alistair Darling MP, saying he will not be deflected from the business of government by calls for a leadership ballot.

"As far as I'm concerned we should be concentrating on the business of government and getting though the recession."
Minutes later, Alan Johnson, incumbent Labour Home Secretary, added his support to the Prime Minister saying:
"Gordon Brown is the best man to lead the Labour party. I respect Patricia and
Geoff a great deal but I do not support their proposals."
As the working day came to close Cabinent Minsiter, Ed Miliband MP, warned Labour MPs against 'self indulgent navel gazing' and said he is sure his brother David would join him in backing the Prime Minister. This was followed by Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP, joining the ranks of cabinet ministers defending Gordon Brown, insisting there is 'no issue' over Mr. Brown's leadership saying:
"I don't think there is an issue about the direction in which Gordon Brown and
the cabinet and the government as a whole are seeking to lead the country."
Shortly before seven o'clock Foreign Secretary, David Miliband MP, said:
"I am working closely with the prime minister on foreign policy issues and
support the re-election campaign for a Labour government that he is leading."
Shortly before ten o'clock Labour MP Eric Joyce (Falkirk) wrote on his blog that:
"[T]oday’s most newsworthy detail was that two cabinet ministers created a flap
in the pigeon coup, but turned out not to be foxes but chickens."
And finally, on BBC 1's News At Ten, Nick Robinson reported that six cabinet members were prepared to support a revolt against Gordon Brown's leadership 'under the right circumstancs'. Nick Robinson emphasised that he had not spoken to those he later named as Harriet Harman MP, David Miliband MP, Douglas Alexander MP, Bob Ainsworth MP, Jack Straw and Jim Murphy. David Jones MP, Conservative (Clwyd West), notes that
"Such an announcement on prime time TV will only increase the tensions already
seething within the cabinet and make the Prime Minister look even weaker."
And asks, rightly:
"Has Gordon the bottle to enact his own Night of Long Knives? Somehow I
doubt it."

Whether the SnowStorm Plot melts with the snow, or whether new developments, possibly tomorrow, keep the hopes, and the story, alive for those who would rather have a new leader for Labour, only time will tell.

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