Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Brown coup plot shows Labour 'deeply divided' - Cameron

David Cameron: "This is incredibly depressing for the country"

The attempted coup against Gordon Brown's leadership shows his government is "deeply divided", Conservative leader David Cameron has told the BBC.

Restating calls for a general election, Mr Cameron said Mr Brown did not have a mandate to rule and two years after becoming PM was in "deep trouble".

Cabinet ministers dismissed calls on Wednesday by two Labour veterans for a secret ballot on Mr Brown's leadership.

Lord Mandelson told the BBC Mr Brown's future as Labour leader was secure.

Strong leadership

News of a letter sent by former cabinet ministers Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt to all Labour MPs broke during prime minister's questions on Wednesday - although it is understood Mr Brown had learned of it that morning.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme Mr Cameron said it showed the government was "deeply divided" at a time when Britain needed leadership on issues like Afghanistan and Britain's budget deficit.

We cannot go on like this, we've got to have an election and a change of government
David Cameron

He said if stories suggesting that Mr Brown does not have the support of senior colleagues were true "people will ask why should anyone else support him?"

"If ever there was a time when our country needed strong leadership and united government it is today," he said.

"We've got this massive budget deficit, we are at war in Afghanistan we've got deep social problems and yet we've got a government completely divided."

'Step off stage'

He questioned how much time had been spent by senior ministers thinking about tackling national problems and how much "thinking about their own futures and their own careers".

"We cannot go on like this, we've got to have an election and a change of government."

He said Mr Brown - who succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister in 2007 when he was elected party leader by Labour MPs - did "not have either a clear mandate from his party" or from the country.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Mr Brown was eventually the only candidate in the leadership race as bids by left-wing Labour MPs to oppose him failed to gather sufficient support.

And Mr Cameron said, unlike other prime ministers who have faced challengers to their leadership, like Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair: "Gordon Brown has only been prime minister for a couple of years and is in deep trouble with a deeply divided party."

He said leaders had to know "when the right time to step off the stage is".

Secret ballot

Former defence secretary and chief whip Geoff Hoon and former health secretary Patricia Hewitt sent a letter to all Labour MPs on Wednesday, saying Labour was divided over Mr Brown's leadership.

They said a secret ballot was the best way to resolve these differences and unite the party ahead of the general election campaign - but were publicly supported by only a handful of backbench MPs.

The party has reached a settled view. They want Gordon Brown to lead the party as prime minister into the general election
Lord Mandelson

Cabinet ministers came out against the idea of a ballot and by the end of the day it appeared there was little momentum behind the idea.

Mr Hoon later told the BBC that "by and large", MPs "had not taken" the opportunity of confronting the issue of the leadership.

But the BBC has learnt plotters against Mr Brown felt six Cabinet ministers may back them in the "right circumstances".

Labour MP Eric Joyce, suggested Mr Hoon and Mrs Hewitt had been encouraged by a few senior Labour figures.

He added: "I think it's fairly widely known that there are a few people who imagine, if they just sit there quietly, the backbenchers will deal with the work for them and they can perhaps inherit for a brief period the prime ministership. That has now passed."

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, a key ally of Mr Brown, told BBC 2's Newsnight the revolt had "blown through the corridors of Westminster and out of the window".

He added: "The party has reached a settled view. They want Gordon Brown to lead the party as prime minister into the general election whenever it takes place and they don't want to open the question of the leadership."



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