Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Beckett Warns of Voters' Backlash; Tough Message to MPs Plotting to Oust Brown

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Beckett Warns of Voters' Backlash; Tough Message to MPs Plotting to Oust Brown

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Woodcock

ONE of Labour's most senior MPs yesterday warned the party it risked a backlash from voters if it allowed turmoil over Gordon Brown's leadership to continue.

Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett - who briefly led the party after John Smith's death in 1994 - said the electorate would "neither understand nor forgive" the party if it appeared to be more interested in in-fighting than solving Britain's problems.

Her comments came as a group of rebel MPs continued their drive for nomination papers for a successor to Mr Brown to be sent out ahead of next week's annual party conference in Manchester.

A contest to replace Mr Brown could be triggered if 71 MPs - 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party - submit nominations. But the rebels' claim that Labour rules require the papers to be distributed to all MPs before conference has been rejected by party general secretary Ray Collins, who says the convention for the last 11 years has been that they are sent only to individuals who request them.

One of those demanding the papers, former minister George Howarth, yesterday insisted that the party would "emerge stronger" from a leadership contest, which might even be won by Mr Brown.

He said "a lot" of his fellow Labour MPs agree that the party is in serious trouble and warned them: "You can't just close your eyes and hope it will all go away. It doesn't work like that."

One ministerial aide, who declined to be named, yesterday warned Mr Brown was "in his death throes" and indicated he was considering quitting his unpaid Government post if the PM does not turn the situation around with a bravura speech to conference. But former transport minister John Spellar dismissed the plotters as "self-indulgent" and urged Mr Brown to dismiss them as "a little local difficulty". …

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