Brown’s rivals to coordinate leadership bid

Michael Meacher has confirmed either he or John McDonnell is prepared to withdraw their bids for the Labour leadership in order to present a united leftist challenge to Gordon Brown.

Despite often open animosity between the two campaigns, the would-be prime ministers have decided only the man with the most support will stand in the leadership contest.

It is expected the two will meet when Tony Blair officially announces his departure and compare support. The candidate most likely to gain the 45 nominations from MPs necessary to get on the ballot will challenge Gordon Brown.

The cooperation follows increasingly tense relations between the two leftist MPs.

In a letter to the Guardian on Wednesday, Mr Meacher claimed he was the more credible candidate, having 24 signed statements of support from MPs and verbal support from a further 12.

Responding in his blog, Mr McDonnell questioned the credibility of Mr Meacher’s claims. He said the former environment minister had asked MPs to sign a paper supporting the principle of a left-wing challenger, but had no public support for standing himself.

Mr Meacher insisted he was the most likely candidate to receive 45 nominations, claiming Mr McDonnell has only 15 verbal promises.

“That is all the more the case when his supporters have admitted that nearly all of them would transfer to me if he withdrew, while only a handful of my supporters would transfer to him if I withdrew,” Mr Meacher wrote.

He argued Mr Brown’s supporters want Mr McDonnell to run as they fear a challenge from himself.

Mr McDonnell hit out at Mr Meacher’s comments in his blog, saying he had broken the agreement for a “comradely discussion” within the left.

In calls which Mr Meacher appears to have headed, Mr McDonnell urged a more cooperative approach.

He explained MPs would only have a “few days” to send in their nominations after Mr Blair resigns. MPs cannot switch candidates unless their first choice withdraws from the race, meaning MPs may not have time to transfer their allegiance to the most likely challenger.

Combining their support means either Mr Meacher or Mr McDonnell may receive sufficient nominations to force Mr Brown into a leadership challenge.

It had been looking increasingly likely that Mr Brown would be appointed Labour leader with no opposition, after his most likely contender, the environment secretary David Miliband, ruled himself out.

Mr Brown’s camp has already been collecting support for the chancellor’s bid and now has backing from 217 Labour MPs – more than half of the parliamentary party.

Downing Street today strongly denied rumours that Mr Blair plans to stand down earlier than expected.

It had been speculated the prime minister could announce his resignation on the 10th anniversary of his 1997 election, in a bid to rejuvenate a flagging Labour party ahead of the May 3rd elections.