David Taylor MP drops dead on Boxing Day walk with family... leaving Gordon Brown facing tricky by-election

Labour backbencher David Taylor died after suffering a massive heart attack

Labour backbencher David Taylor died after suffering a massive heart attack

Gordon Brown is facing the unwelcome prospect of a New Year by-election following the death of Labour backbencher David Taylor.

Mr Taylor, MP for North West Leicestershire, suffered a heart attack while walking with his family on Boxing Day.

His death, aged 63, leaves Labour facing the possibility of a difficult fight in a seat where the party's majority is just 4,477.

And last night the Prime Minister faced even more pressure as it was reported Jack Straw is leading a 'Fearless Five' group of ministers who want him to step down before the general election.

Justice Secretary Mr Straw is said to have suggested a 'decisive and dignified' exit.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, Chancellor Alistair Darling, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson make up the rest of the group.

A swing of 4.75 per cent would see a Conservative victory in North West Leicester-shire. The seat is the Tories' 81st top target and one David Cameron must win to gain an overall majority.

Nationally they need a swing of 7.1 per cent to take an overall majority in the Commons, so the by- election would be seen as a bellwether for the general election.

Under parliamentary convention, by-elections are traditionally held within three months of an MP's death.

But there was speculation last night that Labour may try to bend the rules to avoid risking a humiliating defeat just months before the likely date of a general election. Party sources refused to discuss the issue last night, saying it was 'insensitive'. 

But if Labour refuses to call a by- election in the coming weeks, Mr Brown will face accusations that he is running scared of the electorate.

Mr Brown made no reference to the issue last night when he paid tribute to Mr Taylor as 'one of the most hard working MPs locally and nationally - a great representative who felt and spoke up for the needs of his constituents'.

Mr Taylor, who was voted backbencher of the year in 2007, was a widely respected, independent minded MP who never sought ministerial office.

As chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, Mr Taylor played a prominent role in lobbying ministers to introduce the smoking ban.

Paying tribute last night, Deborah Arnott, director of the anti- smoking campaign group Ash, said Mr Taylor was 'crucial in getting the smoking ban legislation through parliament'. Meanwhile Cabinet ministers were yesterday in revolt over Mr Brown's 'hideous' class war attacks on the Tories.

Amid mounting speculation that the Prime Minister could face a leadership challenge in the new year, senior ministers lined up to criticise Mr Brown's attempt to exploit David Cameron's privileged background for political ends.

The moves have dismayed moderate members of the Cabinet who believe they will alienate the public and destroy the broad coalition that helped New Labour win three successive elections.

Tessa Jowell, the Blairite Olympics Minister, yesterday called on Mr Brown to bring an end to the 'hideous to and fro of personality attack'.

She added: 'I don't think anyone can be responsible for the school they went to. Most people don't give it a thought from one day to the next whether Eton exists.'

In a separate intervention Mr Straw said it was unfair to criticise people on the basis of where they went to school.

Mr Straw said Labour's attempt to use class war tactics against the Tories in last year's disastrous Crewe and Nantwich by- election were 'not terribly successful'.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now