Labour 'resigned to losing general election'

THE Labour Party is resigned to an election defeat under the stewardship of Gordon Brown, following last week's shambolic coup attempt and yet more damaging revelations about the Prime Minister's leadership style.

Senior Labour sources said the party had no confidence it would emerge victorious from a general election campaign, despite widespread expectation among its ranks that the Conservatives could be beaten with a different leader.

Following last week's abortive bid to unseat him as leader, the news put more pressure on Mr Brown and came as a former Labour Party general secretary described the Downing Street operation under him as "a shambles" and "completely dysfunctional".

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Peter Watt, who was forced to resign from his party position in 2007 following a scandal over political donations, undermined Labour's electoral chances yet further, by lifting the lid on the "chaos" behind the scenes of Downing Street after Mr Brown assumed the premiership.

In an extract from his memoirs, Mr Watt claimed Mr Brown is widely derided by senior Cabinet colleagues and came to power in 2007 with no strategic leadership plan.

The revelations were met with dismay by Labour MPs, already reeling from the events of the past week, which saw former ministers Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt call for a secret ballot on Mr Brown's leadership.

The Prime Minister was forced to make a string of concessions to Cabinet colleagues in order to head off the coup, and a consensus seemed to have formed in the party that he would lead them into the forthcoming election.

But one senior Labour source yesterday told The Scotsman: "I haven't met anybody who thinks we are going to win. My colleagues are divided. They think – and I agree – that David Cameron is beatable, that the Tories are not loved. But on the other hand they know we can't beat him with Gordon – and they are stuck in this dilemma."

He added: "It clearly is damaging – to have instability without actual resolution of the issue."

Another Labour MP said: "There is a mood of resignation in the party that Gordon will now lead us into the election. People accept that changing leaders now would be pointless, and the best candidates don't want to lead us to a defeat."

He said the leadership bid had been "cack-handed" and "came too late to change anything", adding: "Until a senior cabinet minister comes out in support of the rebels, the infighting will achieve nothing, except destabilising the government."

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Mr Brown yesterday dismissed the leadership ballot bid as "silliness", insisting he would be at the helm of the party at the next election.

"I'm sorry it happened. I think it was a form of silliness," he said. "I am the Prime Minister and am determined to remain so. I am determined, I am resolute."

But any thoughts Labour MPs may have had about a period of calm before the election campaign began in earnest were blown away in spectacular style with Mr Watt's incendiary disclosures and further reports that a senior Cabinet minister was still considering his position under Mr Brown.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth was said to be on the verge of quitting, claims he denied as Mr Watt launched a serialisation of his forthcoming book – Inside Out: My Story Of Betrayal And Cowardice At The Heart Of New Labour.

Mr Watt said: "Downing Street was a shambles. There was no vision, no strategy, no co-ordination. It was completely dysfunctional. Gordon was simply making it up as he went along.

"There were mutterings across Whitehall about what a mess Number 10 was in. Decisions about the most trivial things would take weeks, because nobody felt confident enough to sign anything off themselves."

Mr Watt, who praised Mr Hoon and Mrs Hewitt for raising the leadership question, accused the Prime Minister of "weird behaviour", claiming that Mr Brown walked out of a dinner held for US Democrats after guests took their seats without his permission.

Mr Watt said: "For the rest of the meal he was monosyllabic, sulking because he had lost control of the seating plan. The plates had not even been cleared when quite suddenly, without saying anything, he just got up and left."

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Elsewhere, he cast light on the confusion of Mr Brown's plans to hold a snap election in the months after he became leader. The former general secretary claimed senior party members were desperate to hold the poll, suspecting that Mr Brown would eventually become extremely unpopular among the electorate.

He claimed Douglas Alexander – who some say Mr Brown used as a scapegoat for the election debacle – told him the Prime Minister was disliked by senior Cabinet colleagues and recalled a conversation he had with Mr Alexander in the run-up to the abandoned poll: "The truth is, Peter, we have spent ten years working with this guy, and we don't actually like him," Mr Alexander was reported to have said. "We have always thought that the longer the British public had to get to know him, the less they would like him as well."

Mr Watt added: "Though Douglas said it with a smile on his face, the sentiment was repeated many times in discussions among senior Labour figures at the time."

That version of events was strongly denied by Mr Alexander yesterday, and the Labour party accused Mr Watt of having an agenda after he was forced from his job in the wake of the "donorgate" scandal that saw the party receive 600,000 in illegal proxy payments.

A Labour MP yesterday indicated he did not believe the news would lead to further coup attempts.

"Gordon Brown's leadership is never under threat until such time as David Miliband or Alan Johnson actually enter into the race," he said. "Over and over again, the various plots have had the same script, which is you try and invoke a process in the hope a candidate will emerge.

"That is simply not how it will ever happen."

But the fallout continued among Mr Brown's political opponents.

Opposition leader David Cameron said the events of the previous week "demonstrates that we need to have strong, determined leadership from a united government".

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"We can't get that from Labour and Gordon Brown, and an increasing number of people in the Labour Party even seem to be saying that," he said.

In Scotland, Alex Salmond said there was "exceptional rift and exceptional division" in the Labour Party.

"I don't think you could be much weaker than Gordon Brown's government – there are deep divisions within the Labour Party," he said.


Monday 4 January: THE Tories were accused by Chancellor Alistair Darling of a 34 billion credibility spending gap in the party's latest policy document. Gordon Brown and Children's Secretary Ed Balls announced extra tuition for pupils struggling with numeracy and literacy, pictured.

Tuesday 5 January: LORD Mandelson warned that Labour will lose the election if it focuses only on its core vote. The Business Secretary, pictured visiting a port construction site near Thurrock, said he would oppose any strategy abandoning the bid to woo Middle Britain.

Wednesday 6 January: GORDON Brown's prospects of leading Labour to victory in a forthcoming general election were dealt a devastating blow when two former Cabinet ministers, Patricia Hewitt, pictured, and Geoff Hoon, called for a secret ballot on his leadership.

Thursday 7 January: DAVID Miliband finally backed Gordon Brown as leader after a febrile 24 hours in which the Foreign Secretary was accused of supporting a plot to oust the Prime Minister. Later, David Cameron took the heat off the Prime Minister after admitting he "messed up" over the Tories' commitment to a marriage tax break.

Friday 8 January: MR BROWN, seen here visiting a day centre in Southwark, London, was back in the dock after a YouGov survey revealed that the Conservatives' lead over Labour had grown by two points to 12 per cent.

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Sunday 10 January: PETER Watt, a former general secretary of the Labour Party, stepped forward to complain that Number 10 had been reduced to a "shambles" under Mr Brown. In his memoirs he painted a highly critical portrait, saying: "There was no vision, no strategy, no co-ordination. It was completely dysfunctional."

More on this story:

PM's misjudgment over election that never was

Possible contenders in race to lead Labour

Brown's best bet – cut to the chase with an early general election