Thursday 18 July 2019

Ministers in failed plot to get rid of British PM

Resignations were co-ordinated in bid to force Brown to step down

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah watch as D-Day veterans take part in the Normandy Veterans Final Salute. Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah watch as D-Day veterans take part in the Normandy Veterans Final Salute. Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite

A co-ordinated plot by British cabinet ministers was behind the resignations last week that came close to forcing Gordon Brown to step down, it can be disclosed.

Hazel Blears, James Purnell, John Hutton and Caroline Flint all claimed that they were working alone when they handed in their resignations to No 10.

But according to today's Sunday Telegraph, the former ministers were part of a group of Blairites that met secretly for months and tried to co-ordinate last week's resignations.

Their intention was to force Mr Brown to stand down in favour of Alan Johnson, the then health secretary.

Mr Brown faced fresh embarrassment last night after a leaked email showed that Lord Mandelson said the prime minister was "self conscious", "insecure" and "angry".

The prime minister faces another damaging poll defeat tonight with the announcement of the result of the European Parliament elections.

Meanwhile, a survey of Labour backbenchers discloses that almost half of those who responded either refused to support Mr Brown or wanted him to step down.

The Sunday Telegraph says that the group of Blairite ministers behind the plot planned a "phasing" of resignations after Ms Blears quit on Wednesday.

Ms Flint, the Europe minister, was meant to follow her on Thursday night but held out to try to get a better government job, leaving Mr Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, to stage his dramatic walkout instead.

Ms Blears, the former communities secretary, telephoned other ministers to try to get them to close ranks behind Mr Purnell.

However, the coup was effectively thwarted by Lord Mandelson, the business secretary.

Meanwhile, Lord Mandelson's email was sent to Derek Draper, his former political aide, nine months before his return to the cabinet last October. Dated January 2008, it describes Mr Brown as "insecure", and not comfortable in his own skin, unlike Tony Blair.

He was also said to be "angry" and "self-conscious". The peer said the prime minister followed populist policies. At the time of writing, Mr Brown, whose credibility was badly damaged after he scrapped plans for an election in November 2007 at the last minute, was said by Lord Mandelson to be unable to get on to the front foot.

Lord Mandelson also expressed concern that Mr Brown was preoccupied with populist gimmicks, warning "strategic policy formulation" is more important than "telling people you watch the X-Factor".

The emails fell into the hands of Paul Staines, who writes the Guido Fawkes website, and are thought to be part of the same batch as those sent to Mr Draper by Damian McBride, the former Downing Street aide. Mr McBride resigned after publication of the emails -- which included scurrilous and untrue rumours about the private lives of leading Conservatives.

The latest revelations are embarrassing because Lord Mandelson has become Mr Brown's vital ally.

The comments are certain to be presented by opposition parties as evidence of what the business secretary "really thinks" about Mr Brown.

A spokesman for Lord Mandelson said: "This email response was sent over a year ago in response to the suggestion that Gordon Brown needed to change his image. What Peter was saying was that Gordon should just be himself, that artificiality does not work in politics, and that what he is and what he stands for and the policies he is pursuing should be allowed to speak for themselves. He maintains this view."

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News