Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Sunday, 14 September 2008 12:01 UK

Ex-minister seeks Labour contest

Fiona Mactaggart says another MP should replace Gordon Brown

Former Labour minister Fiona Mactaggart has said that another MP should be allowed to stand for the party leadership against Gordon Brown.

Ms Mactaggart told the BBC's Politics Show: "I think we should give someone else a chance to take over."

She is one of over a dozen Labour MPs calling for a leadership contest.

Her comments come after another MP, Joan Ryan, was sacked as Labour's vice chair after joining calls for a leadership contest.

Ms Ryan, MP for Enfield North and a former Home Office minister, has also been sacked as Mr Brown's Cyprus envoy - a position she was given when he entered Number 10 in June last year.

On Friday, junior whip Siobhain McDonagh was fired for calling for a debate on Gordon Brown's leadership.

'Tory agenda'

Ministers say it is not the time for a challenge to Gordon Brown - nor for a public debate about the future of the party.

Business Secretary John Hutton joined those in support of the prime minister by telling Gordon Brown's critics they should concentrate their fire on other parties, not their own leader.

He said: "It's the job of members of the cabinet ... to support the prime minister in what he's doing and I do that because he is setting the right direction for Britain."

Speaking to the BBC, Ms Mactaggart said she made her request for nomination papers for a new leader to be sent out at the end of August.

She said: "The problem that I see is a lack of clarity about our ambitions for Britain.

Harriet Harman defends Gordon Brown's leadership

"When you look at the Conservatives, everything they do is a reaction to an agenda that we set, and yet suddenly, recently, we've been reacting to their issues. We don't need to."

Entering the row Labour MP John McDonnell - who has long been urging a leadership election - described current Labour infighting as "like watching the crew having a punch up on the deck of the Titanic".

The MP for Hayes and Harlington said: "Most Labour Party members are looking on aghast as the Blairites and Brownites fight an irrelevant turf war."

The Labour Party has said nine MPs have so far asked for nomination papers to be issued to all members of the parliamentary party - five of these have now made their names public.

Former Home Office minister George Howarth admitted requesting nomination papers to be sent out.

Writing in the News of the World, he said: "Sadly, every test of public opinion shows that people seem to have decided Gordon is not the person they want to lead the country.

"I am not sure whether Gordon can regain the public's trust and confidence.

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"The best way of testing that is through a leadership contest. If Gordon were to win that contest, he would emerge stronger. Either way it would give the government a fresh start."

Ms McDonagh, also writing in the News of the World, called Mr Brown a "brilliant chancellor" but believed that a "proper debate" was needed.

She wrote: "I'm convinced he would have been a better leader if there had been a proper leadership election last year with other strong candidates."

Several more Labour MPs are expected to air their views in the next few days.

'Error of judgement'

BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg said: "With just seven days until the party's conference, there is no doubt Labour is in a flux."

But there have also been a string of MPs loyal to Mr Brown dismissing the actions of those calling for a leadership election.

Junior minister Kevin Brennan told BBC News some of his colleagues were taking the "wrong" course of action. He said: "It is not what the party needs and it is not what the country needs really".

Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, has also criticised Labour MPs seeking a leadership contest.

"I think it is an error of judgement," she said.

"I think people would expect the party of government to be focused on taking us through difficult economic times and protecting those at risk."

Labour MP for Dagenham John Cruddas dismissed the calls for a leadership election as an indulgent sideshow that would do nothing but harm to the party.

Mr Cruddas - who ran for the deputy party leadership last year - said those seeking a challenge to Mr Brown were "delusional".

The party's general secretary Ray Collins has rejected the MPs' call for nomination papers to be sent out to all MPs - saying that under party rules he is not required to do so.

The party's annual conference starts in Manchester next weekend.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said Britain was "watching the death throes of the Labour Party".

Tory frontbencher Chris Grayling said: "Gordon Brown should sort this out once and for all by calling an early General Election."


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