Brown urged to get rid of 'Scots Mafia'

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LABOUR figures have called on Gordon Brown to purge the "Scots Mafia" around him in an effort to curry favour with voters south of the border.

The Prime Minister is being urged to give key jobs to ministers seen as able to reach out to Middle England amid concern that the party will face a landslide general election defeat at the hands of David Cameron's Conservatives.

MPs believe that ministers from south of the border will be better able to appeal to middle-class voters in marginal seats across England.

The call came amid increasing speculation about Brown's future as Labour leader and private warnings that David Miliband needs to "seize his chance" to unseat Brown to save his party from defeat.

Stephen Ladyman, a former minister and the Labour MP for the marginal English seat of South Thanet, said: "It is important to recognise that the election is won or lost in England. We need to have English voices speaking and giving messages that make sense in English communities."

Lindsay Hoyle, the Labour MP for Chorley, added: "Voters are looking to see a better balance within the cabinet to ensure that all the regions of England are represented."

Keith Vaz, a former minister and a member of Labour's national executive committee, called for Brown to appoint an English deputy prime minister.

He suggested that Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, should take over full responsibility for domestic and economic policy.

Such a change would effectively be a demotion for Chancellor and Edinburgh MP Alistair Darling.

Vaz said: "Gordon has proved to me to be very effective. But now he has got a real opportunity to shake up the Government. There is one way of proceeding without the necessity of a huge reshuffle. There is a post that is vacant at the moment and that is the post of deputy prime minister."

Some MPs believe that Alan Johnson, the health secretary, or James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, could be given new roles as the English "spokesmen" for the Government.

At present there are four Scots in the cabinet, including Brown and Darling. Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary and Des Browne, the defence secretary, are both close to the Prime Minister. However, some English MPs privately question their ability to communicate with voters south of the border.

One Labour MP, who asked not to be named, reportedly said: "We live in a world where there is a quota for women MPs and there may soon be quotas for black MPs. Why should there not be quotas for the English too? The Scots Mafia have dominated Brown's team for too long."

Labour's poor showing in the Crewe by-election has in part given rise to the anti-Scottish backlash.

The disastrous Labour campaign was run by a Scot, Steve McCabe, a Government whip. He has been criticised for running a negative campaign caricaturing the Conservatives as "toffs", a campaign that backfired among English voters.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is being warned by allies that he will have "missed his chance" if he fails to mount a leadership challenge to Gordon Brown this summer.

Miliband is being pressed by backbench supporters to 'throw his hat into the ring' in order to force the Prime Minister to quit within the next few months.

But they are also piling pressure on the minister, telling him that he will not be supported if – after an election defeat in 2010 – he decides to go for the leadership then.

One senior Labour source said: "David Miliband won't get the leadership if he goes for it when it's easy, after Brown has lost the election. He is being told he should go for it now, or he won't be backed later."

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