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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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

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