Brown appeals for party discipline

Author: By Daniel Bentley, PA

The Prime Minister used a newspaper interview to insist there was work to be
done over the summer as MPs and ministers headed off for their summer break.

He told the Sunday Mirror: “We’ve got to show that we are a disciplined party
getting on with the work of government.

“I think people are very clear that we’ve got a task ahead. We’ve got work to
do to prepare for the autumn.”

The premier said he was determined to spend plenty of time with his children
during his break from Westminster.

But he also stressed that he would remain focused on the country, currently
facing the challenges of swine flu and recession.

“My attention is focused on what I can do for the country. I will not be
diverted,” he said.

His comments come amid renewed concerns about his leadership among Labour
backbenchers, who said he had until the party conference season in September
to demonstrate he was up to the job.

The Tories overturned a Labour majority of more than 5,000 in Norwich North on
Thursday to win by 7,348 votes.

A repeat of the 16.4% swing in a general election would install David Cameron
in Number 10 with a majority of more than 200 seats in the Commons.

Senior Labour backbencher Barry Sheerman said Labour needed to get its “act
together” and stop blaming its difficulties on the MPs’ expenses scandal.

“It’s partly a question of leadership, it’s partly a question of ideas,” he
said.

Mr Sheerman accused Mr Brown of failing to connect with voters, adding: “I’m
saying he’s got the summer to recognise this isn’t about members’ expenses,
it’s about something much more fundamental.

“People don’t want to know about what we’ve done, they want to know what we’re
going to do and whether we’ve got the leadership and the forward-vision
thinking to do it.”

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke blamed the dramatic swing away from
Labour on Mr Brown’s response to the expenses crisis.

The by-election was forced by the resignation of Labour’s Ian Gibson as the MP
for Norwich North after he was told by a party disciplinary panel he would
not be allowed to stand at the next election over revelations about his
expenses claims.

Mr Clarke, MP for the neighbouring seat of Norwich South, said the Prime
Minister had not been fair in his treatment of MPs.

Writing in the Independent, Mr Clarke said: “This incompetent and unjust style
has deeply damaged democratic politics.

“Moreover the appalling result in Norwich illustrates the important political
side-effect that Labour, as the governing party, has been injured worst of
all.

“The main reason for the Norwich result was that voters there were quite clear
that it was for them, not the Labour leadership, to decide whether or not
Ian Gibson remained their MP.”

Another Labour backbencher, Kate Hoey, said the Prime Minister needed to look
at how he led the Labour Party.

“By-elections are always unique but there is no doubt about it that this is a
bad result,” she told the BBC.

“The Prime Minister, I hope, will be looking at how he’s looking to lead the
party and to talk to the party, and a lot of party members feel that they
are not listened to.”

Ms Hoey played down the prospect of a leadership election, saying there was
nobody vying for the position at present, but warned that the party
conference could become a focus for discontent.

Tony Lloyd, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, accepted that morale
was low among MPs, but also dismissed any suggestion of a bid to oust the
Prime Minister.

“There will be no leadership challenge to Gordon Brown,” he said.

The Prime Minister is taking a month off from Westminster, but is not going
abroad. Instead he will spend the time at home in Scotland and in the Lake
District.

The workaholic raced back from Dorset just a few hours into his summer holiday
to deal with the foot and mouth crisis in 2007.

And he told journalists on Wednesday that this year he would only be spending
“a few days” on holiday before “getting on with the job”.

But, in his Sunday Mirror interview today, he made clear he wanted to dedicate
some time to wife Sarah and their two sons, five-year-old John and Fraser,
three.

“If you are away for a week you notice how your children change and you have
got to re-win their interest,” he said.

“It’s important you understand you have got to spend time with your children.”

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