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."

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

0800 7318496