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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 05:48 GMT 06:48 UK
Hutton call to 'challenge' Brown
John Hutton
Mr Hutton is a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair
Gordon Brown should face a challenge for the Labour leadership when the job is vacant, one of Tony Blair's closest backers in the Cabinet has said.

Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton called for a "proper election", telling the Times: "We don't do coronations in the Labour Party."

But he refused to say whether or not he would stand for the post.

His comments come ahead of Mr Blair's last Labour conference as leader. The event begins in Manchester on Sunday.

I think [an election] is something Gordon himself has acknowledged would be good for the Labour Party
John Hutton
Work and Pensions Secretary

Mr Hutton told the paper: "I think there is an agreement that having a leadership election... could be a good thing for the Labour Party.

"I think that is something Gordon himself has acknowledged would be good for the Labour Party. We don't do coronations in the Labour Party. We have elections to choose our leader.

"And that is how, I think, we should choose our next leader. There should be a proper election."

BBC political correspondent Robin Brant said while a long line of cabinet ministers had emerged to back the chancellor as the new leader, Mr Hutton was keener to make sure there was a contest.

Battle hints

At the moment backbencher John McDonnell is the only Labour MP to have pledged to fight Mr Brown for the job.

But Mr Hutton is hinting at a battle between two heavyweights, says our correspondent.

The pensions secretary has refused to say if he will be the one to make sure that happens.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown is considered the favourite to succeed Tony Blair

The comments could be seen as provocative - coming from a man stridently loyal to Mr Blair, our correspondent adds.

Last week, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt suggested the public should be able to vote for the next Labour leader, with contenders taking part in a series of debates.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Populus for the Times on Saturday suggests Mr Blair will not go down in history as a great prime minister in the minds of the public.

Its poll - based on interviews with 1,007 adults between September 8 and September 10 - revealed only 6% of people think that is how Mr Blair will be remembered.

Some 38% think he will be remembered as a good prime minister, down from 42% a year ago.

Eighteen per cent of people think Mr Blair will be remembered as a bad prime minister, according to the poll.

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