LONDON (Reuters) - The two potential challengers to Gordon Brown for the Labour Party leadership decided on Monday to join forces in a bid to ensure there is a contest to succeed Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Left-wing Labour MP Michael Meacher agreed to stand aside in favour of fellow leftist John McDonnell after both struggled to get the 45 nominations necessary to make it on to the ballot.
“I welcome Michael’s friendly decision. We are now working together to appeal to all Labour MPs to ensure an election takes place to enable every Labour Party member to participate in deciding the future of our party,” McDonnell said.
“This is an issue of democracy,” he told a news conference.
McDonnell said that by pooling Meacher’s support, he had enough pledges of support from Labour MPs to meet the 45-name quota although it remains to be seen if all those who promised their backing agree to formally nominate him.
Nominations opened on Monday and close on Thursday at 12:30 p.m.
So far, Chancellor Brown is the only contender guaranteed of a place in the race, which was triggered by Blair’s announcement last week that he would resign on June 27. If no other candidate gets on the ballot paper, he will be crowned leader.
Brown, 56, who has been waiting in the wings to succeed Blair for years, is already well into his stride as the race’s hot favourite, appearing more at ease and comfortable with himself now that Blair is finally stepping aside.
While saying he would welcome a contest, Brown has portrayed his potential opponents as representatives of the old Labour policies of tax-and-spend that proved its downfall in the 1980s.
He has also unveiled a number of policies including plans for new environmentally-friendly homes.
McDonnell said there was a huge appetite in the country for a leadership contest and suggested he could beat Brown.
“If we get on the ballot paper, you’d be shocked at the depth of support among Labour Party members and affiliated unions,” he said. “There is a mood for change.”
Brown, however, has received the endorsement of Blair, his cabinet and Labour’s big-guns.
“The more people get to see of Gordon the more they will respect him,” Environment Minister David Miliband, who himself had been tipped as a potential leadership candidate, told journalists on Monday.
“I think they will like his politics and the way he leads. I think they will like and respect him more. I think it’s an opportunity... a big chance and people will come to appreciate (his) vision and values,” he added.
There are six potential candidates for deputy leader and that race looks like a close contest.
Once the list of candidates is finalised, there will be 10 hustings across Britain. Results of the ballot will be announced at a Labour conference in Manchester on June 24, three days before Blair has said he will resign.
additional reporting by Sophie Walker