Straw’s trench fighter signs up MPs for Brown coup plot

  • Harriet Harman rushes to PM's defence, saying he is the right man for the job

  • John Prescott urges MPs to stop secret briefings, warning no potential successors has 'anywhere near' the right skills to lead the country

  • MP said to be behind coup plot has a 'pathological hatred of Gordon Brown dating back to the mists of time'

Jack Straw

Coup: Justice Minister Jack Straw is said to be secretly compiling a list of MPs who want Gordon Brown to quit

Jack Straw has denied he is secretly preparing to confront Gordon Brown and tell him Labour MPs want him to resign as Prime Minister.

Senior Party Sources told the Mail on Sunday last night former Minister George Howarth, a close friend of Justice Minister Mr Straw, approached Labour MPs and asked them to add their names to a list of people who want Mr Brown to quit.

This comes as the Prime Minister is accused of trying to bribe a top minister to stop a cabinet revolt and an opinion poll shows the Conservatives with a 24-point lead in marginal constituencies.

One Labour MP contacted by Mr Howarth said: ‘I was asked if I wanted to join a group of people who want Gordon Brown to step down.

‘I was told that Jack Straw is contemplating going to him in September and telling him that he must resign for the sake of the Party.

‘It was explained to me that a list of Labour MPs who agree with that view is being drawn up.

The idea is that if Gordon tells Jack there is no evidence that Labour MPs want him to go, Jack can produce the list of names from his pocket and prove that it is true.’

The MP added: ‘I do not want to give any further details because it may make it harder for the plan to succeed.’

The latest evidence of a Labour plot to get rid of Mr Brown in the wake of the Party’s shattering defeat in the Glasgow East by-election came as rival Cabinet Ministers prepared for the growing possibility of a leadership contest in the autumn.

Mr Howarth has been identified by Mr Brown’s allies as the leader of a plot to oust him.

But the justice secretary insisted today he remains 'absolutely convinced' Gordon Brown should remain Prime Minister.

He issued a public warning to MPs that it would be a 'big mistake' to plot to remove Mr Brown following reports his allies were preparing for an autumn coup.

Mr Straw said: 'I am absolutely convinced that Gordon Brown is the right man to be leading the Labour Party.

'I was convinced of that when I was his campaign manager last year and nothing that has happened since has changed that view.

'The result in Glasgow East was obviously disappointing but it would be a big mistake for the Labour Party to now turn in on itself and indulge in a summer of introspection.

'We must instead focus relentlessly on the issues which matter most to people, listen to their concerns and work hard to address them.

He added: 'Gordon Brown is the best leader to lead us through these tough times. He has done so before and he will do so again.'


Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour party, told the BBC today that Mr Brown had been scapegoated because of the current economic problems.

She said: 'What is in the best interests of the country is that we have a strong and experienced Prime Minister…you need someone who is respected on the world stage for their financial analysis…that is Gordon Brown."

'I'm saying very clearly that this is an economic problem. I don't think for one moment we would have lost that by-election in Glasgow had it not been for the cost of living. Our response is to focus on those concerns.'

John Prescott also entered the row today, urging MPs to stop secret briefings, warning no potential successors had 'anywhere near' the right skills to lead the country.

The former deputy prime minister his strongly-worded message via his first blog entry on the independent website used by party supporters.

'Let me make this very clear: party members and the public will never forgive MPs and others who force Labour to go through another leadership election in less than two years.

'That's what Tory and Lib Dem MPs do. It's not the Labour way.'

Other Labour backbenchers have come out in support of Brown today, including Gerladine Smith.

One of Mr Brown’s most senior advisers last night claimed Mr Howarth ‘hated’ the Prime Minister – and did not have Mr Straw’s support.

He said: ‘George Howarth has a pathological hatred of Gordon dating back to the mists of time.

'He goes round trading on Jack’s name and there is nothing Jack can do about it.’

But other MPs said it was ‘inconceivable’ that Mr Howarth was acting without either the explicit or tacit approval of Mr Straw.

Mr Howarth, MP for Knowsley North for 21 years, challenged Mr Brown at a meeting with North West MPs earlier this month, saying: ‘I have to tell you that many of us think it is not so much the economy that is the problem, but you who are the problem.

‘We would like to know what you are going to do about it.’ A frustrated Mr Brown banged the table in response.

The Observer newspaper reports Government Chief Whip Geoff Hoon - a key player in any attempt to oust Mr Brown -  is being lined up to succeed Peter Mandelson as European Commissioner next year.

Mr Hoon along with Mr Straw has apparently come under increasing pressure to lead a delegation asking the the Prime Minister to go. 

Leading Labour rebels fear the European job is being used as a bribe for the passionately pro-European chief whip, who would normally advise a leader on whether he has irretrievably lost the confidence of MPs. 

'Our understanding is that Geoff is being bought,' said one leading rebel. Another Labour MP told the newspaper the cabinet were 'bloody cowards' for not revolting.

George Howarth
Gordon Brown

Dislike: George Howarth (left) is the leader of the plan to oust Brown and is said to have 'a pathological hatred' of the PM

A CrosbyTextor poll, conducted for The Telegraph newspaper, shows support for Labour has slumped to 17 per cent, putting the party in third place behind the Liberal Democrats, who are on 18 per cent.

The study was carried out in 30 vital 'swing' seats across the country and puts David Cameron's party on 41 per cent of the vote.

George Howarth

Former teacher Mr Howarth, 59, is one of Mr Straw’s closest political and personal confidants.

He served as a Home Office Minister when Mr Straw was appointed Home Secretary in 1997.

Until recently, they served together on Parliament’s influential Modernisation Committee.

Little known outside Westminster, arch-Blairite MP Mr Howarth, a member of the Privy Council, is one of the most influential and respected Labour backbenchers.

His reputation for discretion is one of the reasons he was appointed to the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee.

He once joked how a newspaper columnist described him as ‘all nose, bone and moustache looking for all the world like a First World War Tommy about to go over the top at the Somme’.

Mr Howarth told The Mail on Sunday last night: ‘We need to look at all of the issues, including the Government’s policies, our lack of popularity with the electorate and the party leadership.’

Asked if he was asking Labour MPs to back a bid by Mr Straw to get rid of Mr Brown, he said: ‘It is difficult for me to comment on that. They must have misunderstood any conversations they may have had with me.’

He denied ‘hating’ Mr Brown, saying he was among Labour MPs who nominated him as Labour leader.

A friend of Mr Howarth added: ‘Of course George has spoken to other Labour MPs about the party leadership, but he has not done so on behalf of Jack Straw. All Labour MPs are having those conversations.’

A spokesman for Mr Straw said: ‘I am aware that certain people are drawing up lists, but it has not been sanctioned by Jack Straw. He believes Gordon Brown is the right leader and that people should calm down.’

Cabinet veteran Mr Straw, 61, is emerging as the new favourite to succeed embattled Mr Brown.

However, his chances of doing so could be damaged if he is held responsible for ousting the PM.

Recent British political history lends weight to Shakespeare’s adage that ‘he who wields the dagger rarely wears the crown’. 

Michael Heseltine’s role in bringing down Margaret Thatcher is one of the reasons rank outsider John Major beat him in the race to succeed her.

Some Labour MPs say Mr Straw could play the role of a ‘caretaker’ Prime Minister tasked with avoiding a landslide defeat at the next General Election, and making way to allow a new generation of Labour leaders to rebuild the Party in Opposition.

It is not the first time Mr Straw has been involved in manoeuvrings over the fate of a Labour leader. He was accused of treachery by some Cabinet Ministers when he appeared to switch his loyalty to Gordon Brown as Tony Blair lost his grip on power.

As Labour’s ratings have plunged in recent months, some of Mr Brown’s supporters have accused Mr Straw of doing the same thing to Mr Blair’s successor.

Yesterday, Mr Straw appeared to rally behind the Prime Minister, with reports he had told Labour MPs to ‘calm down’.

But MPs noted the reassuring statement was made by one of Mr Straw’s aides, not the Justice Secretary himself, who was on holiday in America.


Mr Straw is not the only Cabinet Minister linked to reports of plotting.

One Labour MP claimed he had been approached by supporters of Health Secretary Alan Johnson and told not to support his claims to the leadership – yet.

‘After the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, people acting on behalf of Alan Johnson urged me not to publicly support him as a candidate,’ said the MP.

‘My interpretation was that they felt it would ruin their timing if he was “flushed out” too soon.’

The MP added: ‘The public claims that there is nothing going on is at odds with the Tea Room gossip. And it is more than just gossip.

‘Things are being organised, and the indications are that it is going to happen sooner rather than later.’

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