Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 10:07 UK

Government still working - Harman

Harriet Harman
Ms Harman says Gordon Brown will lead Labour into the next election

Harriet Harman has attempted to dismiss speculation about Gordon Brown's future as the government faced accusations it is in its "death throes".

Labour's deputy leader insisted the prime minister had a plan to lead the country and said that cabinet government was functioning normally.

She told Today: "I don't accept that he can't keep a grip on government."

It follows news that three ministers, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, are to stand down within days.

Opinion polls suggest Labour is heading for its biggest defeat in a national poll when voters cast their ballots in the European elections on Thursday.

'Jumping ship'

MPS LEAVING PARLIAMENT
The following MPs have said in the past three weeks that they will not contest the next election
Conservative: Andrew MacKay, Julie Kirkbride, Douglas Hogg, Sir Peter Viggers, Anthony Steen, Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton, Christopher Fraser
Labour: Margaret Moran, Ben Chapman, David Chaytor, Ian McCartney, John Smith, Patricia Hewitt, Beverley Hughes, Michael Martin (Speaker)

And doubt was cast on Mr Brown's plan to reassert his authority with a post-poll cabinet reshuffle by the early announcement that Ms Smith was stepping down.

Opposition parties have stepped up their calls for an immediate general election, with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg saying the government was "in its death throes" and there were now questions about "whether Britain is being governed at all".

And the normally-Labour supporting Guardian newspaper has published a lengthy editorial calling for Mr Brown to quit.

But on BBC Radio 4's Today, Ms Harman denied the government was in a "mess", insisting Tuesday's cabinet meeting had been "a purposeful day of doing the business of the government".

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

She said discussion had focused on issues such as backing up the car industry, tackling the spread of swine flu and cleaning up the system of MPs' expenses.

She added that she "profoundly" disagreed with the Guardian editorial accusing Mr Brown of having no vision and no plan and calling for the Labour Party to "cut him loose".

'Jumping ship'

She said: "There are big challenges that face the economy of the country, that is what Gordon Brown is focused on, and for the Guardian to say he has no plan is simply not true.

"I think he understands better than anybody what needs to be done to take the economy through these difficult times. So it is rubbish."

Four Labour MPs, including children's minister Beverley Hughes and ex health secretary Patricia Hewitt, announced they were standing down on Tuesday.

But Ms Harman denied they were "jumping ship".

"When they say they are going to change their lives now and spend more time with their families, that's not a code for jumping ship. That's because they mean it," she told Today.

Lord Hattersley said Gordon Brown needed to take the party "by the scruff of the neck"

She also dismissed speculation that Mr Brown could face a leadership challenge, saying: ''Well I don't think there will be a leadership challenge...nor should there be."

She said Mr Brown would lead Labour into the next election but dismissed calls for him to go to the country now, saying he wanted time to steer the economy out of recession and sort out MPs' expenses.

The Lib Dems and Conservatives have both indicated they will back a joint SNP/Plaid Cymru motion next week calling for an immediate election.

Labour's former deputy leader, Lord Hattersley said Gordon Brown needed to show strong leadership and "take control".

Charity work

Jacqui Smith became the first cabinet casualty of the expenses scandal when sources close to her said she would step down in a planned reshuffle for the sake of her family.

Ms Smith, who wants to remain an MP, was criticised for listing her sister's London house as her main home - and her husband's claim for an adult movie.

Beverley Hughes also announced on Tuesday that she wanted to leave in the shake-up - for family reasons - while Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson is also expected to step down.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Ex-cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt said she would not seek re-election so she could concentrate on her charity work in India.

But Universities Secretary John Denham denied the departures meant Gordon Brown was facing a crisis.

He said: "I've seen a number of reshuffles, many over the years I've been in Parliament. I think in almost every one there has been one or more ministers have indicated in advance that they didn't want to be considered."



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