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Brown battled to stay in No10 for extra year

FORMER British prime minister Gordon Brown was able to lead Labour into the general election even though many of his most senior colleagues were convinced he could not win, Peter Mandelson disclosed today.

In the latest instalment of his memoirs serialised in the London Times, the former business secretary describes the mood of fatalism among cabinet ministers as they approached the election last May.

He also discloses that then chancellor Alistair Darling wanted to raise VAT to help tackle Britain's record deficit but was blocked by Mr Brown.

Despite backbench plots to oust Mr Brown, Mr Mandelson reveals there was little mood among senior ministers to move against him, even though they had little faith in his ability to lead them to victory.

Mr Mandelson said David Miliband's July 2008 article for the Guardian newspaper on Labour's future in which the then foreign secretary failed to mention Mr Brown was not a bid for leadership but reflected concern in the cabinet about whether the then prime minister could regain public support.

"There was no move to push Gordon out, but there was a lot of unease in the cabinet," he said. "David was reflecting a wider concern in the party and in cabinet over whether Gordon could lead a recovery."

Mr Mandelson said that even Mr Brown came to accept that voters did not want "five more years of him" and suggested that he should promise to stay in office for only one year if Labour was re-elected.

When that idea was rejected, Mr Brown proposed a "mega referendum" on a series of reforms to be held in 2011, pledging to stand down if he was defeated.


On another occasion, Mr Brown was said to have told Mr Mandelson that "I just can't communicate" and that he should have gone for an early election after he became prime minister in 2007. Tessa Jowell, the then cabinet office minister, was said to have asked Mr Brown to consider his position, while Mr Miliband considered challenging him for the leadership but found ministers wary.

Mr Mandelson himself confided in a colleague that he feared Labour was heading for a "colossal defeat".

He also describes how No 10 and the Treasury were at loggerheads over the strategy for tackling the deficit, with Mr Brown resisting all efforts to get him to use the word "cuts".