Gibson will back Brown for leadership

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor An extraordinary Labour leadership bid by former environment minister Michael Meacher appeared immediately to sink today when Norwich MP Ian Gibson chaired his campaign launch and then announced he would be voting for Gordon Brown.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

An extraordinary Labour leadership bid by former environment minister Michael Meacher appeared immediately to sink today when Norwich MP Ian Gibson chaired his campaign launch and then announced he would be voting for Gordon Brown.

Dr Gibson said he had chaired the event because he had been asked to - only a few hours beforehand - and “because I respect his right to stand”. But he emphasised that “I have always been a Brownite”, and added that he didn't know anyone who was going to back Mr Meacher.

The Norwich MP also said that some people in the Labour Party would be unhappy about Mr Meacher's ownership of “a lot of homes”. The ex-minister's entry in the Register of MPs' Interests includes four residential properties in London on which he receives rental income and one in the Cotswolds rented out as a holiday let.

Mr Meacher launched his campaign to succeed Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party - and prime minister - under a banner promising “peace, social justice, climate survival”.

He insisted it was not a “foregone conclusion” that Mr Brown would be Mr Blair's successor, and said he was “fully confident” of receiving the 44 MPs' nominations needed to get on to the ballot paper alongside the chancellor.

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The policy platform he launched includes complete withdrawal from Iraq and no involvement in any military action against Iran, opposition to Trident and nuclear power, a £7-an-hour minimum wage and measures to reduce the difference in pay between the richest and poorest.

Mr Meacher, who is 67, was politically close to Tony Benn in 1981 when he (Mr Benn) almost won the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. But he served as an environment minister under Mr Blair in 1997-2003 and voted in favour of going to war in Iraq.

He described that decision today as “the biggest political mistake of my life”, and accused the prime minister of “deliberately misinforming” MPs and the public over the state of intelligence about the arsenal of WMD Saddam Hussein was asserted to possess. Had he known “the truth”, the Oldham MP said, he wouldn't have backed the war.

His decision to stand for the Labour leadership has upset supporters of John McDonnell, the leader of the hard-left Campaign group of Labour MPs, who has already declared his candidature to succeed Mr Blair.

It is highly unlikely that both of them can get the 44 nominations required. But asked if he was 'splitting the left', Mr Meacher replied: “I don't believe that John McDonnell actually can get the necessary number of nominations. I firmly believe that I can, and to that extent, I am putting the left into the ring and I think and hope I am uniting the left rather than splitting it".

Bookmakers William Hill put Mr Meacher as a 50-1 outsider to replace Mr Blair, and a spokesman said he “has not even cleared the first fence”.