Exclusive: secret ballot on Brown's leadership

Letter being circulated this afternoon

A letter is being circulated among Labour MPs this afternoon calling for a secret ballot on Gordon Brown's leadership.

According to one MP who would like Brown to leave office, the letter is being co-ordinated by a number of rebels, including the former cabinet ministers Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon.

However, there are questions being asked as to whether any move can be made against Brown today, in the midst of heavy snowfall, as much of the UK has ground to a halt.

"It may not be possible because of the snow," one MP said. "But the idea is that, at the very least, it forces Brown to give a commitment that if he stays on to fight the election, he will not serve more than one year."

PMQs

Brown scored an early hit against David Cameron at PMQs today when he mocked the Tories' new slogan, "Year for change", saying, in reference to Cameron caving in to the Tory right/ConservativeHome brigade on tax breaks for married couples: "He changed his policy in the morning, he changed his policy in the afternoon and he changed his policy in the evening." Cameron carped about and mocked the Budget deficit, but Brown rallied MPs. "Their policies are a change: a change back to the 1980s."

Cameron had a reasonable joke about saying "I love you, darling" and meaning it (unlike with Brown and the Chancellor) but -- uncharacteristically -- Brown hit back with a spontaneous joke of his own, about the married couple's tax allowance issue: "He can't even say I do or I don't!"

This may be the wrong day to move against Brown.

UPDATE: Hewitt and Hoon are set to issue a statement calling for Brown to step down.

UPDATE: Extracts from the Hewitt-Hoon statement:

* "Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in which this question is affecting our political performance. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot."

* "There is a risk otherwise that the persistent background briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies on getting our real message across. In what will inevitably be a difficult and demanding election campaign, we must have a determined and united parliamentary party."

* "It is our job to lead the fight against our political opponents. We can only do that if we resolve these distractions. We hope that you will support this proposal."

 

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Northern Ireland's political crisis ups the stakes for Theresa May

Unionism may be in greater immediate danger in Belfast than Edinburgh.

 Sinn Féin have announced that they will not put forward a candidate for deputy first minister, and barring a miracle, that means today's 4pm deadline for a new power-sharing executive will come and go. What next for Northern Ireland?

While another election is possible, it's not particularly likely. Although another contest might change the political composition at Stormont a little, when the dust settles, once again, the problem will be that the DUP and Sinn Féin are unable to agree terms to resume power-sharing.

That means a decade of devolved rule is ending and direct rule from Westminster is once again upon us. Who benefits? As Patrick explains in greater detail, a period of direct rule might be good news for Sinn Féin, who can go into the next set of elections in  the Republic of Ireland on an anti-austerity platform without the distracting matter of the austerity they are signing off in the North. The change at the top also allows that party to accelerate its move away from the hard men of the north and towards a leadership that is more palatable in the south..

Despite that, the DUP aren't as worried as you might expect. For one thing, a period of devolved rule, when the government at Westminster has a small majority isn't without upside for the DUP, who will continue to exert considerable leverage over May.

But the second factor is a belief that in the last election, Arlene Foster, their leader, flopped on the campaign trail with what was widely derided as a "fear" message about the consequences of the snap election instead of taking responsibility for involvement in the "cash for ash" scandal. That when the votes were cast, the Unionist majority at Stormont was wiped out means that message will have greater resonance next time than it did last time, or at least, that's how the theory runs.

Who's right? Who knows. But for Theresa May, it further ups the stakes for a good Brexit deal, particularly as far as the Irish border is concerned. A lot of the focus - including the PM's - is on her trip to Scotland and the stresses on that part of the Union. It may be that Unionism is in greater immediate danger in Belfast than Edinburgh.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.