Page last updated at 17:15 GMT, Friday, 8 January 2010

Geoff Hoon admits Labour leadership ballot push is over

Geoff Hoon: "It was an opportunity"

Former cabinet minister Geoff Hoon has admitted his push for a secret ballot on Gordon Brown's leadership "is over".

But he told the BBC he did not regret sending a letter to all Labour MPs calling for a vote on the issue.

Meanwhile in the first cabinet since the failed bid, Mr Brown has told ministers they must have a "laser focus on the key issues of the country".

And Lord Mandelson dismissed reports that after the plot ministers had persuaded the PM to change his style.

On Wednesday former defence secretary Mr Hoon and former health secretary Patricia Hewitt urged a secret ballot of Labour MPs on the Labour leadership, saying the party was "deeply divided" on the issue and it had to be sorted out "once and for all".

'Up to them'

But only a handful of backbench MPs publicly supported the move and throughout the day cabinet ministers spoke against it.

Mr Brown has called it a "storm in a teacup" but there has been continued speculation about his level of support among cabinet colleagues.

BBC' political editor Nick Robinson said, in the period before senior ministers publicly rejected the revolt, Mr Brown had a meeting with Justice Secretary Jack Straw and Commons leader Harriet Harman, who demanded a widening of his leadership circle, and with Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Nick Robinson
Gordon Brown has the full-blooded and enthusiastic support of only a handful of members of his cabinet
Nick Robinson

Mr Brown's spokesman said he had made no reference to the failed ballot on Friday morning at the cabinet meeting, the first since the news broke, instead telling ministers of the "importance of a laser focus on the key issues of the country" - such as the economy and severe weather.

Meanwhile, on the campaign for a ballot, Mr Hoon told the BBC: "I think it's probably over. I accept that we made that opportunity and we don't appear to have succeeded... We set it out and it's really for them [Labour MPs] to decide."

He was due to meet Labour members on Friday in his constituency of Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, where district council leader John Knight said activists were "shocked and disappointed" at Mr Hoon's involvement.

Mr Hoon replied that Labour "thrives on political debate" adding: "He's entitled to his view and I'm entitled to mine." He said he still planned to stand as a candidate at the next election - due to be called by early June - while Ms Hewitt is standing down.

Core vote

Some cabinet members were accused of responding too slowly following the letter being sent out and issuing only lukewarm expressions of support for the prime minister in the immediate aftermath.

Asked about reports that cabinet ministers had met Mr Brown on Wednesday and persuaded him to change his style and emphasis, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson told the BBC: "I don't think so. I don't think that the discussions that have taken place have quite followed those lines."

Peter Mandelson: "We have to win back people to our side"

Asked if Mr Brown had been told not to pursue a "core vote strategy" for the general election, Lord Mandelson said: "I have never heard any of my colleagues, and certainly not the prime minister, ever suggest that the Labour Party can or should win on the basis simply of those who are supporting us now."

Meanwhile, a ComRes poll for BBC Two's Daily Politics suggests that 60% of people believe Labour is the most divided party, compared with 17% for the Conservatives and 10% for the Lib Dems.

In the same survey, 50% of people agreed Labour would have greater appeal with voters if Mr Brown stood aside to allow someone else to lead the party into the next election, while 42% disagreed.

But 69% said that, if he were to resign, there were no obvious more popular candidates within the party.

ComRes spoke to 1,003 voters on 6 and 7 January.

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