Striking council workers marching against the Brown government’s pay cuts in London in July
Striking council workers marching against the Brown government’s pay cuts in London in July

CALLS for a Labour Party leadership election were condemned by UNITE union Joint General Secretary Tony Woodley yesterday.

‘I’ll back the prime minister until we see he is not acting in the best interest of our country,’ Woodley told Sky TV, adding: ‘I think at the moment he’s doing his best.’

Woodley insisted: ‘A leadership vote just isn’t going to happen.’

He condemned those ‘in our own government who never wanted this man in power’, adding: ‘Stop listening to the lunatics who are coming out of the wood in the past couple of days, who are splitting our party.’

However, Woodley, seeking to cover his tracks with some fighting talk, added: ‘If this government doesn’t listen and act there will be a bigger rebellion, not just in the party but in the country.’

He said of Brown: ‘He’s got to do an awful lot more, show that he’s listening and acting, don’t listen to the Blairites around him,’ adding: ‘We need not a change of leader but a change of direction.’

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: ‘I don’t agree that there should be a leadership election,’ adding that talk of a leadership election ‘is a challenge to the whole Cabinet’.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: ‘Everybody in the party is worried about the fact that we are behind in the polls. The question is what is the right thing to do, and I don’t think changing our leader is the right thing to do.’

Benn went on to claim that Brown ‘was chosen overwhelmingly by the party when he was elected last year and I think he’s the right man for the job’.

In fact, there was a ‘coronation’ of Brown last year and no election.

John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, who sought to stand against Brown last year, said: ‘Most Labour Party members are looking on aghast as the Blairites and Brownites fight an irrelevant turf war.’

He said that there were ‘no policy differences whatsoever between the Blairites and the Brownites’, adding that it is their policies that are making the Labour government so unpopular in the opinion polls and their conflict was ‘like watching the crew having a punch-up on the deck of the Titanic’.

He went on to call for an election where policy differences should be aired and voted upon.

Former minister Fiona Mactaggart said that another MP should be allowed to stand for the party leadership against Gordon Brown.

Mactaggart said: ‘I think we should give someone else a chance to take over.’

Joan Ryan, Enfield North MP and a former Home Office minister, was sacked as Brown’s Cyprus envoy on Saturday for calling for a leadership election, after junior whip Siobhain McDonagh had been fired for the same reason on Friday.

Ryan fears for her seat after Health Secretary Alan Johnson agreed to the closure of Chase Farm Hospital last week.

Former Home Office minister George Howarth admitted applying for leadership candidate nomination papers yesterday.

He said: ‘Sadly, every test of public opinion shows that people seem to have decided Gordon is not the person they want to lead the country.

‘I am not sure whether Gordon can regain the public’s trust and confidence.

‘The best way of testing that is through a leadership contest. If Gordon were to win that contest, he would emerge stronger. Either way it would give the government a fresh start.’

Junior minister Kevin Brennan condemned those seeking a contest, saying: ‘It is not what the party needs and it is not what the country needs really’.

The Labour Party Annual Conference starts in Manchester next weekend.