Clarke ready to challenge Brown

Charles Clarke is prepared to stand against Gordon Brown in a Labour leadership contest, according to the latest reports.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Clarke hinted he would put himself forward as leader if the environment minister David Miliband refused to do so, in a bid to stop a “coronation” for Mr Brown.

However, the former home secretary stressed it was “very unlikely” he would stand and said he would not “make a judgement” until after Tony Blair officially announces his resignation.

Nevertheless, he is considered likely to gain the necessary support from 44 MPs and has nothing to lose from running a leadership campaign solely designed to force a vote for Mr Brown.

Sources close to Mr Clarke told the newspaper he wants to run a progressive campaign to force a debate on the future direction of the Labour party.

Alongside former cabinet colleague Alan Milburn, Mr Clarke recently launched the 20:20 Vision website designed to “move the debate forward” on the future of the Labour government.

Launching the website they said: “After ten years in office we will need to demonstrate that we have the vision and the policies to successfully meet the future challenges faced by our country and the wider world.

“There will, of course, be many different points of view about the future direction we should take as a party but we believe the critical thing is to develop an open process for ideas and views to be aired.”

It has increasingly been speculated David Miliband could provide a fresher competitor to Tory leader David Cameron, although the environment minister has been increasingly vocal in his support for Mr Brown.

This weekend foreign secretary Margaret Beckett warned Mr Miliband he would be “daft” to stand as Labour leader, praising Mr Brown’s credentials.

And Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain called on Labour MPs doubting Mr Brown to “put up or shut up”.

“There’s nobody else with his vision and frankly his brilliance, so I really think it’s time for those who have been sniping continuously over the last months – and it’s now reached something of a pitch – to put up or shut up,” he told GMTV.

“From some of the off-stage and some on-stage noises from party colleagues that have been signalled to me, it’s almost as if there is a subliminal desire to see David Cameron take over rather than Gordon Brown,” he said.

However, work and pensions secretary John Hutton agreed it would be a “good thing” for the Labour party and the country for Mr Brown to stand against a credible opponent.

In an interview with ITV’s Sunday Edition he said: “I think if someone comes forward and wants to challenge the chancellor, I think there should be a proper and open and fair and properly-conducted leadership debate.

“Whether someone does challenge Gordon or not for the leadership, that is a decision that others have to make.

“But I think if it happens I am quite confident the Labour Party will be able to conduct that debate properly and sensibly.”