Activists unimpressed with rebel Clarke

Charles Clarke’s call for an immediate leadership election has met with a negative response from Labour activists at the party’s conference in Manchester.

The former home secretary, who previously said the prime minister had only “months” to prove his leadership qualities, wanted an immediate vote in an article for the Sunday Times.

He wrote that “almost no one, including at the top levels of government” believes Mr Brown can win the next election and says “prevarication and evasion” of a leadership challenge only make the situation worse.

“If Gordon Brown is to remain prime minister and prove wrong those who doubt his capacity for change, he must establish his authority and offer clear leadership”.

“The alternative is for Brown to depart with honour,” he wrote, using noticeably blunt and unambiguous language.

He added: “A new leader will then be chosen to carry through a political programme which meets our economic challenges and enables Labour to rebuild its fortunes to contest the next general election with genuine confidence.”

The call met with hostility from Labour party members sitting outside the G-Mex conference centre in Manchester this afternoon.

“I really have got absolutely no time for Charles Clarke or anything he says.
I think it’s disgraceful,” Tony McCarthy of Portsmouth North told politics.co.uk.

“I think somebody in his position, who was a great home secretary, should be a bit more responsible.”

Those sentiments were backed by Bill Olner MP, who said he thought Charles was “wrong”, and Edna Forrest of Bishops Stortford, who said his actions were “destructive”.

Meanwhile Norma Stephenson of Labour’s national executive committee, which rejected calls for the distribution of leadership nomination papers last week, warned that such moves should not cloud the political agenda.

“I think mainly it’s attributed to the backstabbing and infighting that’s coming from people who should know better and who should be more committed to this party,” she said.

“Politics is more important than personalities and they should concentrate on doing the job they’re elected to do.”

The man himself was not in a talkative mood this morning following his most outspoken article yet against Mr Brown.

“I don’t want to be interviewed,” he told politics.co.uk on his way from the conference centre.

His call for Mr Brown to “depart” clashes with a comment later on in the article where he suggested the prime minister should be allowed to fight for his position in a vote.

Mr Brown’s performance in recent days, and in particular his handling of the HBOS – Lloyds TSB merger, appears to have given him some breathing room given his financial experience and the relative lack of experience held by many of those who might wish to take over from him, not to mention the lack of experience on the opposition benches.

But Mr Clarke is adamant that Mr Brown has admitted a number of his Cabinet colleagues have the capacity to be prime minister.

The article came as health secretary Alan Johnson was reported as saying he would not stand against foreign secretary David Milliband, were there to be a leadership election in the future.

He is also reported to have infuriated Downing Street by insisting Mr Brown had given assurances that he will only serve one full term as prime minister if re-elected.

Hazel Blears has provoked consternation with an interview in the Independent on Sunday in which she admits the prime minister lacks emotional intelligence.

She writes: “When people think about Gordon, it might be that he’s a bit serious and dour – but experienced.

“People make their political decisions not just rationally but emotionally as well and I think our government needs to be more emotionally intelligent, and the bit that Cameron has got is the language.”