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Brown given until autumn to gear up for fightback; Chancellor Darling insists Labour can win next General Election.

Byline: Daniel Bentley

GORDON Brown last night urged Labour to spend the summer months gearing up for an autumn fightback as backbench MPs warned that his leadership was once again under scrutiny.

The Prime Minister was told that he had until the September party conference season to demonstrate he was up to the job after Labour's humiliating by-election defeat in Norwich North.

But, as MPs headed off for their summer break, Mr Brown told said: "We've got to show that we are a disciplined party getting on with the work of government.

"I think people are very clear that we've got a task ahead. We've got work to do to prepare for the autumn."

He was reiterating comments he made to the Western Mail when he bought his Cabinet to Wales last week. During the Cabinet visit to Cardiff, the Prime Minister said: "We're setting out plans for the future of the economy, for young people, for jobs."

The premier said yesterday he was determined to spend plenty of time with his children during his break from Westminster.

But he also stressed that he would remain focused on the country, currently facing the challenges of swine flu and recession.

Chancellor Alistair Darling insisted Labour could and would win the next General Election despite the result in Norwich North and the Tories' double-digit lead in the polls.

But he said the party needed to "come out fighting" in the autumn, when it faces another by-election test in Glasgow North East.

"We've got to re-engage and enthuse our supporters who stayed away from the polls last Thursday, but there is a fight to be had," he told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.

"Whoever wins the next election will shape the destiny of this country not just for the five years (but) beyond that.

"So I'm confident - I'm not noted as a natural optimist, but I believe that we can win and we will win, but we really do need to come out fighting."

His comments contrasted with those of Labour backbencher Eric Joyce, who claimed yesterday that even some Cabinet ministers had given up the fight.

"There are some doom-sayers who have given up the ghost and some of those quite senior politicians... some of them Cabinet, some of the ministers of state, some of them ex-Cabinet ministers," he told the Sunday Herald.

And he added: "I still think we can win the next election. If we don't, well I don't think we'll get murdered."

Labour is reeling after their 5,000-plus majority in Norwich North was last week overturned by the Tories, who won by 7,348 votes.

A repeat of that 16.4% swing in a general election would install David Cameron in Number 10 with a majority of more than 200 seats in the Commons.

Senior Labour backbencher Barry Sheerman said Labour needed to get its "act together" and stop blaming its difficulties on the MPs' expenses scandal.

"It's partly a question of leadership, it's partly a question of ideas," he said.

Mr Sheerman accused Mr Brown of failing to connect with voters, adding: "I'm saying he's got the summer to recognise this isn't about members' expenses, it's about something much more fundamental.

"People don't want to know about what we've done, they want to know what we're going to do and whether we've got the leadership and the forward-vision thinking to do it."

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke blamed the dramatic swing away from Labour on Mr Brown's response to the expenses crisis.

The by-election was forced by the resignation of Labour's Ian Gibson as the MP for Norwich North after he was told by a party disciplinary panel he would not be allowed to stand at the next election over revelations about his expenses claims.

Mr Clarke, MP for the neighbouring seat of Norwich South, said the Prime Minister had been "incompetent and unjust" in his handling of the controversy.

"The main reason for the Norwich result was that voters there were quite clear that it was for them, not the Labour leadership, to decide whether or not Ian Gibson remained their MP," he said.

Another Labour backbencher, Kate Hoey, said the Prime Minister needed to look at how he led the Labour Party.

"By-elections are always unique but there is no doubt about it that this is a bad result," she said. "The Prime Minister, I hope, will be looking at how he's to lead the party and to talk to the party, and a lot of party members feel that they are not listened to."

Ms Hoey played down the prospect of a leadership election.

Tory leader David Cameron said he was not getting carried away with his party's position.

"We are well aware that Margaret Thatcher had to win around 40 seats to get an overall majority. We want to win 120, we still have an enormous mountain to climb."

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 27, 2009
Words:847
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