Page last updated at 19:51 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 20:51 UK

Ministers attack rebel MP Field

Gordon Brown
Mr Field said it was a 'tragedy' that Mr Brown is not enjoying being PM

Two Cabinet ministers have rounded on rebel Labour MP Frank Field, after he suggested Gordon Brown was "unhappy" as PM and would step down by 2010.

Mr Brown's closest ally Ed Balls suggested Mr Field's comments cast doubt over whether his "intentions were honourable" over the 10p tax rebellion.

Hazel Blears said it was "sad" Mr Field had "descended" into a personal battle.

Meanwhile, Labour's former fundraiser Lord Levy told the BBC Mr Brown was "really struggling".

The row was sparked by Mr Field's interview with the BBC World Service on Sunday night in which he said he would be "very surprised" if Mr Brown still led Labour at the next election.


Senior backbencher Mr Field, who led the 10p tax revolt, said the PM was "unhappy" in the job, was prone to rages and said he would be "very surprised" if he was still Labour leader in 2010.

He suggested Mr Brown should talk to his loved ones and "see what they say and act on their advice".

His comments scuppered Mr Brown's hopes of regaining the political initiative with big policy announcements on issues such as social care.

The prime minister's fortunes have suffered in recent weeks and his personality and relationship with Tony Blair have come under the spotlight in memoirs from Cherie Blair, John Prescott and Lord Levy.

The counter-attack by ministers had begun with Health Secretary Alan Johnson on the BBC's Today programme.

Brown 'confident'

Mr Johnson said that, while he was not the leader of a Gordon Brown fan club he respected him as a "a really, really decent, good, able politician".

And he said that everyone knew Mr Brown and Mr Field - who is widely thought to have been axed as a minister by Mr Blair in 1998 at Mr Brown's behest - did not get on.

Later in the morning Mr Brown's official spokesman brushed off Mr Field's comments, saying Mr Brown was confident he would lead Labour into the next election.

I think it is very unlikely on the basis of what I have seen that Frank Field will support any proposals that are brought forward by government on the 10p tax
Ed Balls
Schools Secretary

And on Monday afternoon, in a briefing to reporters, originally planned to be about the Tories' education policies, Schools Secretary Mr Balls ratcheted up the attack.

Mr Balls said that before the Sunday interview people might have believed Mr Field's "intentions were honourable" and could take what he said "at face value" over the 10p tax rate.

"As for what he said this morning I think I leave you to draw your own conclusions from that."

'One-man mission'

Asked about any prospect of further talks between the PM and Mr Field, he said: "I think it is very unlikely on the basis of what I have seen that Frank Field will support any proposals that are brought forward by government on the 10p tax."

Pressed on whether Mr Field was on a "one-man mission to take down Mr Brown", Mr Balls said: "I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions from what was said this morning."

Communities Secretary Ms Blears added later: "I think it's a sad day when somebody like Frank Field, who has got a great record of fighting for the poorest people in this country, descends into this kind of personal battle."

She said any politician should be interested in sorting out the issues, "not in trading insults".

But in an interview with the BBC Lord Levy - Tony Blair's former fundraiser - said Mr Brown was "really struggling" and it would be a "tough call" for him to beat the Conservatives at the next general election.

'Bizarre soap opera'

But he told the BBC there was no obvious successor: "Who are you going to change to? Who is this great new leader that is going to emerge? Do I see a great new leader for the Labour Party? I don't."

Conservative leader David Cameron has said the Labour Party was "beginning to resemble a sort of bizarre soap opera".

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: "I don't want to intrude into the internal grief of the Labour Party: Labour figures seem to be doing a good enough job tearing strips off each other for anyone else to contribute."

Meanwhile the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson says some details of how the government plans to compensate some of those affected by the abolition of the 10p tax rate will be announced this week - possibly as early as Tuesday.

It is unlikely to spell out how much money will be paid and to whom but it will set out the process by which the Treasury will identify "losers" and determine their "compensation," the BBC understands.

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