Page last updated at 13:52 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 14:52 UK

Is Brown seriously at risk of axe?

By Vicky Young
Political correspondent, BBC News

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown's friends say he's the best man for turbulent economic times

The plot thickens... or does it?

Those who want to oust the prime minister have a best-case scenario; it involves a senior cabinet minister going into Gordon Brown's office and politely asking him to clear his desk.

He agrees and finds another role in life.

In the real world, few expect this to happen. So plan B is to write a letter, telling the cabinet they have to act to remove their leader so that Labour can avoid electoral oblivion.

At the moment this group of ex-ministers and disgruntled backbenchers are gathering the names of those who would be willing to sign this, as yet non-existent, missive.

One told me he hoped at least two cabinet ministers would sign up. One of the reasons Jack Straw's name keeps cropping up is that the plotters know they'll need senior figures on their side who are not considered hostile to Mr Brown.

If it looks like a Blairite coup it will be easily dismissed by Downing Street. Some of those organising this plan are close to Mr Straw, but they, and he, deny this is a leadership campaign for the justice secretary.

Which brings us to the next crumb of comfort for Mr Brown. No-one agrees on who should take over from him.

Some believe David Miliband missed his chance by not standing last year. Those on the left of the party would prefer Jon Cruddas.


Alan Johnson's name keeps cropping up, even though he has said before that he is not interested in the job.

Many feel he possesses the communication skills that Mr Brown lacks and he should at the very least be given a high-profile job to help get Labour's message across to voters.

The worry for Mr Brown is that the result in Glasgow East has left Labour MPs feeling extremely insecure about their futures.

But one ex-minister put it like this: what is the point in having decent policies when no-one's listening to anything we say

They may have grown accustomed to the idea of a few years out of power. But unemployment - that is a different matter.

The group of those who have decided that something has to be done about the party's predicament seems to be growing, but many MPs are waiting until the autumn to see if there is anything Mr Brown can do to turn things around.

A reshuffle is expected alongside an economic rescue plan, including tax cuts and help for the ailing housing industry.

But one ex-minister put it like this: what is the point in having decent policies when no-one's listening to anything we say. The voters can't see past Gordon.

Mr Brown's friends insist the government's unpopularity is down to the faltering economy and he is the only person with the experience to get the country through difficult times.

While Labour MPs Gordon Prentice and Graham Stringer - never big fans of PM Brown - have both said openly they want change, it seems most MPs are willing to wait until October before making any decisions.

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