Brownhog day: Return of the ‘Get rid of Gordon gang’

No sooner had the ballot boxes in Norwich North been packed away, than the Get
Rid of Gordon group shuffled forward hoping to trigger a fresh leadership
crisis.

Charles Clarke led the phalanx of critics who warned that the Prime Minister
will face a challenge in the autumn ? after MPs’ 82-day summer holiday,
naturally.

But while Mr Brown’s leadership remains under threat, the malcontents were
beginning to look like boys and girls crying wolf in what was becoming
another “Brownhog Day”.

During what Mr Brown admitted last week had been a “difficult year”,
he has been hit by a series of crises with ever-increasing frequency and
predictability.

Even after the spate of resignations led by James Purnell, following the local
and Euro elections in June, there was no mass revolt across the Labour Party.

But after nearly two months of relative quiet, Labour’s defeat in Norwich to
Conservative Chloe Smith ? with a 7,348 majority ? ignited a fresh round of
sniping: Mr Brown’s apparent reluctance to carry any of the blame for
Labour’s failure in the by-election crystallised much of the anger.

The Prime Minister blamed the result in Norwich on everything except his own
unpopularity and even suggested every party had done badly. In the wake of
Friday’s result, he said: “The voters were clearly torn between their
anger and dismay at what has been happening over MPs’ expenses, something
that we are trying to clean up, and at the same time the support for the
former MP, the Labour MP Ian Gibson, who was very popular.”

Mr Clarke pointed the finger at Mr Brown for his handling of the ousting of Mr
Gibson over his expenses claim. Mr Brown should carry the blame for the “incompetent
and unjust style” that had “deeply damaged democratic politics”,
he said.

The Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, Mr Brown’s closest political ally, risked
deepening anger among rebels by suggesting Mr Purnell had quit the Cabinet
because of a “mid-life crisis”.

But by last night, the majority of MPs were preparing for their long summer
holiday, and even critics of Mr Brown remained split over whether to mount
another coup attempt ? the fourth of his premiership ? in the autumn.

Barry Sheerman, who last month called for a secret leadership ballot before
pulling back after Mr Brown’s performance at the Parliamentary Labour Party
meeting, put him on notice that he had until the end of the summer to
improve his game.

The chairman of the education select committee told Radio 4’s Today programme: “In
any other human organisation I know, if the chief executive doesn’t get it
and doesn’t deliver, then he has to consider his position. Now I’m saying
he’s got the summer to recognise this isn’t about members’ expenses, it’s
about something much more fundamental.”

The Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey, a serial rebel against Mr Brown, said
she did not think there would be a fresh leadership challenge. But she told
the BBC: “The Prime Minister, I hope, will be looking at how he’s
looking to lead the party. A lot of party members feel that they are not
listened to.”

Writing in The Independent,Mr Clarke, a former home secretary, did not shrink
from his opposition to Mr Brown: “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.”

Miss Smith secured a swing of 16.4 per cent and more than twice as many votes
as her Labour rival Chris Ostrowski, who held second place ahead of the
Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

Tony Lloyd, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, accepted that morale
was low among MPs, but added: “There will be no leadership challenge to
Gordon Brown.”

With Labour MPs divided over what to do with their leader, the more serious
threat to the Prime Minister is the collapse in support for the Government
among working-class voters.

New figures showed millions of low earners in the C1 and C2 social grades, who
were key to the election victories of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, are
deserting Mr Brown.

Research by the independent think tank the Resolution Foundation, which
represents low earners, shows support for Labour has halved since 1997.

Analysis of voting patterns at the last three polls and voting intentions
today suggests this powerful group, representing around eight million
people, will hand power to David Cameron next year, regardless of the battle
over spending cuts.

The research shows that C1s and C2s ? lower-middle and skilled working class,
typically floating voters affected by the smallest changes in economic
weather ? are expected to hand Mr Cameron the first Tory win in 18 years.

In 1997, 42 per cent of C1s and C2s voted Labour, compared with 44 per cent of
all voters. In 2001, 43 per cent backed Labour compared with 42 per cent of
all. In 2005, 35 per cent of this group voted Labour, compared with 36
overall. Today just 23 per cent of C1s and C2s intend to vote Labour
compared to 27 per cent overall, the Resolution Foundation figures show.

The change appears to go beyond discontent with Mr Brown ? this group is also
the most affected by the recession. The research suggests it has been hit by
the squeeze on borrowing, the property slump and by unemployment. Its
members are also denied state safety nets because they are ineligible for
housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance or income support.

The hokey-cokey

Charles Clarke: Changed his mind on Brown more times than he’s had hot
dinners. Gave PM a chance late last year, but since the failed coup he’s had
a go at every opportunity

Loyal backbencher

Barry Sheerman: Had a hand in June’s attempted coup by demanding a secret
ballot. Won over by Brown at PLP meeting the next week. Now says Brown has “until
end of summer”

Embittered old leftie

John McDonnell: Stood against Brown in 2007, always one of the first to hit
the airwaves on leadership wobbles. Accused PM yesterday of a “terrible
miscalculation” over Norwich North

Serial rebel

Kate Hoey: Never a fan of Brown ? one of the few not to sign his leadership
papers. Yesterday complained on BBC that Labour was failing to put across
the right message to voters

Foul-mouthed petrolhead

Jeremy Clarkson: In February, the Top Gear frontman called Brown a “one-eyed
Scottish idiot”. He apologised but clearly didn’t mean it, as recently
he referred to the PM as a “cunt”

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