Miliband challenges Prime Minister to look to the future

Author: By Jane Merrick and Brian Brady

The Foreign Secretary, who remains one of the most likely people to lead Labour after the election, challenges Gordon Brown to use his last conference before the election to show the “vision” necessary to avert catastrophic defeat.

And on the eve of a critical conference in Brighton for the PM, it emerged that Sue Nye, the closest member of his inner circle beyond his wife, Sarah, is planning an exit from Downing Street amid claims that she is unhappy about the increasing influence of a younger member of the No 10 war room.

Ms Nye, who has been at Mr Brown’s side for more than a decade, is being lined up for a peerage and is in need of “some distance” and a “change of scenery” from the tension of Downing Street. Insiders said Ms Nye, the PM’s gatekeeper and head of government relations, was “really fed up” at the promotion of 28-year-old Kirsty McNeill from speechwriter to head of external affairs.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Mr Miliband made clear he was positioning himself at the front of the pack in the event of the Prime Minister’s resignation. While insisting he was “joining the Gordon Brown stays as PM campaign”, his use of the word “future” will be seen as a thinly veiled challenge to Mr Brown to start preparing for a succession.

Mr Miliband’s comments ? at the start of a week in which Mr Brown will try to position himself to fight off another possible coup attempt ? echo his challenge to the PM in the summer of 2008 when he called for “renewal”.

At conference this week, the Foreign Secretary said, the party needs to “fight the myth that New Labour doesn’t have ideas and that the Government has not got serious and innovative thoughts about the future”.

In what will be seen as a pointed message to the Prime Minister, who is under pressure to hand leadership over to a younger, fresher successor, Mr Miliband said: “I now think ‘future’ is the most important word in politics.” He added “my pitch” for the future of Labour and the country was to satisfy the “modern aspiration for control”.

The Foreign Secretary said that the Brighton conference was an opportunity for Mr Brown to “show what you stand for for the future”. He added: “The future is the key and that means having a mental map that is looking forwards not backwards.”

In his conference speech on Tuesday, Mr Brown will make clear he has no intention of going anywhere, echoing Harold Wilson’s 1969 declaration that “I’m going on”.

Fellow Cabinet ministers will use the conference to demand that Labour has the “fight” for the toughest election campaign against the Tories in 18 years.

The Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, writing in the IoS, says Labour is not ready for the fight. He says that “all of us” were “continuing to behave as if a Tory win is inevitable”.

Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, said: “What we need is more fighters, not quitters.” However, asked at an event on Friday whether he would like to be Prime Minister, he said: “I don’t think you could honestly say you wouldn’t like to have a go.”

Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, who is being lined up as an emergency leader if Mr Brown can be persuaded to resign to avert defeat, once again refused to rule himself out for “all eventualities in the future”.

Mr Brown returned to the UK yesterday morning after a rollercoaster week of summitry in the US.

Ms Nye’s name is said to be on a provisional list of Labour peers, which has been delayed for months, allowing her a departure from No 10. Ms Nye is the equivalent of Tony Blair’s Anji Hunter and has worked with Mr Brown since the early 1990s.

There were suggestions by some insiders that Ms Nye was upset at the growing influence of Ms McNeill. To make matters worse, Ms McNeill was talent-spotted by Sarah Brown.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “It’s not true that she [Sue Nye] is leaving. She is going to be planning the election campaign. She is not thinking of an exit, and has no active plans for a peerage.”

However, after the IoS broke the story last year that Stephen Carter, then head of strategy at No 10, was planning to leave and was in line for a peerage, Downing Street issued a denial. Yet a month later Carter was moved to a ministerial post in the House of Lords.

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