Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Sunday, 25 May 2008 17:15 UK

'No appetite' to oust Brown as PM

Gordon Brown outside number 10
Gordon Brown has vowed to learn lessons from the by-election defeat

Senior Labour figures have rallied around Gordon Brown following the party's crushing defeat in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson told the BBC there was "absolutely no appetite within the party to change the leader".

Foreign Secretary David Miliband dismissed speculation he is to challenge the prime minister himself.

He insisted Mr Brown was right for the job and said Labour must "pull together to weather the economic storm".

Former deputy PM John Prescott said Labour was going through a "bumpy ride", but suggestions Mr Brown should step down were "nonsense".

"Basically he knows what needs to be done. It's still the economy," he said.

Mr Prescott's comments were echoed by International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander who told the BBC he did not think there was "anybody better qualified" to be prime minister.

Speculation over the prime minister's future has followed poor local election results and the Crewe by-election loss.

'Courage and ideas'

Mr Johnson has been tipped as a possible successor to Mr Brown, but when asked if there was a chance he would lead Labour into the next general election replied: "None whatsoever, absolutely none".

"The whole issue of the leadership is settled," he said. "There is absolutely no appetite, I believe, in the party to change leader.

Alan Johnson states he will not be leading Labour into the next election

"Gordon Brown was the towering figure a year ago and is the towering figure in the party now."

Asked about the economic challenges Britain faces, he said: "I think Gordon has the strength, the courage, the ideas to actually deal with these issues."

The bookies' favourite to replace Mr Brown is the foreign secretary, but Mr Miliband said he had no such intentions.

He told Sky News: "I'm not in the market for any job other than the one I've got at the moment, and being foreign secretary is a job that I'm committed to, it's one I'm going to carry on with."

And Mr Johnson dismissed the idea that Mr Miliband was making plans to mount a challenge. "I'm absolutely sure that he's not manoeuvring," he said.

Mr Johnson also dismissed suggestions Mr Brown could ask him to become deputy prime minister: "I'd say no, but it's not going to happen."

Mr Prescott has been vocal in his defence of the prime minister, despite saying in his autobiography that he was at times difficult to work with.

He told the BBC: "There's not been a better chancellor than this man.

He's the right man for the times, he's got the values that people will believe in
Ed Miliband
Cabinet Office Minister

"This is a serious man. This is a man that's made a major contribution to a decade of prosperity."

He said his message to Mr Brown would be: "Stick to your values, stick to your policies, but get it across to people. You're the best man for the job."

Mr Prescott also said the process of choosing a new Labour leader would be very damaging for the party.

"If you looked at the mechanics of the replacement, in fact you've got to go through a process. That would be deadly for us."

'Vital challenges'

Earlier, Mr Alexander said the government was facing three big challenges.

"First of all, we need to keep the economy moving forward. Secondly, we need to help hard-working families cope with rising food, fuel and other bills. And thirdly we need to make sure we continue to improve schools and hospitals.

John Prescott backs Gordon Brown as leader of the country

"I don't think there's anybody better qualified in terms of the experience he brings to the job of prime minister than Gordon Brown to take forward those three vital challenges."

Cabinet Office Minister Ed Miliband told GMTV on Sunday he was certain Mr Brown would be leading the party at the next election.

"He's the right man for the times, he's got the values that people will believe in," Mr Miliband said.

'Last chance saloon'

But other Labour figures have said that the prime minister must change in order to survive.

Former environment minister Michael Meacher told the BBC "the writing's on the wall" for Mr Brown.

"We're in the last chance saloon," he said. "He knows that very clearly he's got to indicate a major change of direction before we get to conference.

"I think he'll find it difficult, but I think he is the right man to do it at this point. If he can't do it or if he won't do it, then he needs to give way to someone who will do it."

His views were echoed by senior Labour peer Lord Desai who said the party's only hope of winning the next general election was a "changed, improved" Gordon Brown.

Billionaire Labour donor Lord Paul told the Sunday Telegraph Mr Brown should "exert his authority" and carry out a cabinet reshuffle.

Another MP, Graham Stringer, said the party needed a new leader to save it from "disaster" at the next election.

And former deputy leadership candidate Jon Cruddas told the Independent on Sunday that the results had given Mr Brown his "final wake-up call".




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