Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Sunday, 7 June 2009 11:57 UK

Stop taking shots at PM, MPs told

Lord Mandelson: "Stop taking shots at the prime minister"

Lord Mandelson has told Labour MPs to "stop taking shots" at Gordon Brown - but ex-cabinet minister Lord Falconer has called for a leadership debate.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said the government must focus on policy and the public should not be distracted.

But former lord chancellor Lord Falconer said he was not sure Labour could achieve "unity" under Mr Brown.

For the Tories, William Hague said the government was consumed by internal divisions and called for an election.

Mr Hague said the prime minister and cabinet were "weakened" and people were "crying out" for a general election.

'Irresistible pressure'

Lord Mandelson told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show he believed people thought Labour was on their side but doubted whether they could deliver their policies.

He told Mr Brown's Labour critics: "Stop taking shots at the prime minister because you are simply going to make the situation for the party and government even worse."

"If you are looking at the situation of total disaster facing us, it is not good enough to say 'more of the same'
Nick Raynsford
Labour backbencher

He said Mr Brown concentrated on policies, not on "being a showman".

"If we get the policy agenda right, and if it's sufficiently bold and decisive then the public will take a different look at us.

"At the moment they're being entirely distracted by noises off, by people who are not keeping their nerve."

He said Labour MPs worried about the prime minister did not appreciate that "what is at the root of the public's concerns about the government are the fears they have as a result of the economic recession".

Leadership debate

No-one wanted to stand against Mr Brown because the cabinet was "united" behind him, said Lord Mandelson.

Having a third leader in one Parliament would mean "irresistible pressure to hold a general election" before Labour had the chance to sort out the economy and implement its plans for public services, he said.

He's put so many lords in his cabinet he's drifting back into Victorian times
William Hague

But Lord Falconer, a close ally of former PM Tony Blair, told the BBC: "I think we are moving moderately quickly towards the need for a change and that change may be a change in leadership."

"What the country wants is a government focused on the renewal of trust in our politics and on the economic crisis. I think at the moment they don't think we as a party can do it.

"We need unity above all. Can we get unity under the current leadership? I am not sure that we can. And I think we need to debate it urgently and I think probably it will need a change in leader".

'Total disaster'

The continued debate follows a drubbing for Labour at the local elections on Thursday - when they lost the four county councils they controlled and their vote share dipped to an historic low of 23%.

Former minister Nick Raynsford told the BBC's Marr programme the prospects were "even worse" for the European elections, the first results from which are due on Sunday evening.

He said that if there were no change there could be a "disastrous general election" in which Labour would be reduced to "an ineffective and very small opposition party".

Brown: 'You're bound to have ups and downs'

He added that there were a number of possible leadership candidates: "If you are looking at the situation of total disaster facing us, it is not good enough to say 'more of the same'. We have to be radical. We have to think of ways in which we can re-engage with the electorate."

Asked about Labour's leadership rumblings, shadow foreign secretary Mr Hague said the Conservatives were happy to "take any of them on".

"All we can see is a government consumed by its own affairs they're not doing any actual governing. This is all about them and not about the country."

Email 'tittle tattle'

He criticised the reshuffle - which saw Lord Adonis and Glenys Kinnock, who will be made a peer, moved into the cabinet.

"He's put so many lords in his cabinet he's drifting back into Victorian times in terms of less accountability and less democratic government."

Meanwhile, Lord Mandelson dismissed reports of an email he wrote in January 2008, which described Mr Brown as "self conscious" and "angry", as "tittle tattle".

Lord Mandelson said the email had not been hostile to the PM but had simply advised that he be himself.

Influential left-wing backbencher John Cruddas joined those backing the PM. He told the Sunday Mirror: "Everyone knows our government is in trouble. Serious trouble.

Gordon Brown has at least got policies that we can already see working
Terry Hart, Exmouth

"But to suggest that we'll tackle those problems simply by chucking Gordon Brown overboard is madness."

The reports come as Mr Brown faced more flak from Caroline Flint who had walked out of her job as Europe minister, claiming he treated women in his cabinet as "window dressing".

In an interview with the Observer, the Don Valley MP accused the prime minister of "negative bullying" of women and "using" them for his political ends.

Ms Flint's was one of six ministerial resignations during a turbulent week for Labour, capped by a disastrous performance in the English local elections.

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MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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