Prime minister attempts to address uncertainty over Labour's election team in aftermath of attempt to topple him
Gordon Brown today suffered a blow when two opinion polls showed an increased Tory lead as it emerged that he was set to respond to the collapsed coup against him by handing clear election campaign roles to leading cabinet ministers.
The planned move by the prime minister – likely to include giving the key strategy role to Lord Mandelson – reflects the realisation that uncertainty over Labour's election team seems to be behind some of the cabinet discontent over his leadership.
As the cabinet met today for the first time since Wednesday's attempt to topple Brown, a YouGov poll in the Sun showed the Tory lead had increased by three points in the aftermath of the crisis.
The polling took place between 4pm on Wednesday and noon on Thursday, just one day after another poll had been carried out for the paper.
The Tories are now on 42%, while support for Labour is down 1% to 30% and the Lib Dems are also down one point, to 16%.
A separate ComRes poll for BBC2's Daily Politics programme suggested that 60% of voters saw Labour as the most divided of the main parties.
Only 17% of respondents said the Tories were the most divided, and just 10% named the Liberal Democrats.
ComRes also found that, by a margin of 50% to 42%, voters said Labour would have greater appeal if Brown were to stand aside.
However, 69% of respondents accepted that if Brown were to go, there were "no obvious more popular candidates".
For weeks, there has been a lack of clarity over the roles of Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary, the deputy leader, Harriet Harman and Mandelson, the business secretary.
Brown has also been increasingly reliant on his long-term ally Ed Balls, fuelling resentment from other senior cabinet figures.
During more fraught moments in the wake of Wednesday's challenge by the former cabinet ministers Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt, the prime minister was urged to adopt a more collegiate style.
One of the perceived losers from the coup, the foreign secretary, David Miliband, yesterday threw his weight behind Brown after issuing the weakest possible endorsement of the prime minister on Wednesday night.
Miliband was criticised by allies and opponents for failing either to resign or to back Brown fully.
Yesterday, he said: "We have got an election to fight, Gordon is leading us into it, we are determined to win it under his leadership, and I am looking forward to getting stuck into it."
Brown – relieved by the certainty that he will now lead the party into the election – dismissed the coup as "a storm in a teacup".
But he met individually with three senior cabinet ministers on Wednesday.
They discussed aspects of his leadership style as well as his approach to the budget deficit – one of the repeated points of tension at the top of the government.
Brown was told not to retreat into a "core vote" strategy which could narrow Labour's appeal to middle England.
At the same time, the ringleaders of the abortive coup were last night facing a backlash in their constituency parties, including demands for Charles Clarke, the Norwich South MP and former home secretary, to explain himself at a meeting of his local party tonight.
Clarke is being named by Downing Street as the man who masterminded the plot and the source of the claim that six named cabinet ministers wanted to see Brown toppled.
He is seen as the conduit between disaffected cabinet ministers and both Hoon and Hewitt, but is understood to deny this.
It is expected that the former party chairman will be told by his local party to "shut up".
One local Labour source said: "Most people are of the view that Charles should now shut up. There were legitimate reasons for moving against Gordon Brown last year but, once that failed, everything else became pointless and damaging."
One of the six named cabinet "dissidents", the Scottish secretary, Jim Murphy, rejected claims that he was complicit in the plot as "utter rubbish".
He described the actions of Hoon and Hewitt as "ludicrous", adding that the response from the vast majority of Labour MPs had confirmed his view.
The justice secretary, Jack Straw, also strongly denied he had been involved in the plot, but did meet Brown to discuss the party's strategy.
The chancellor, Alistair Darling, rejected reports that he had quietly raised the question of Brown's leadership when the two men met to discuss the sudden crisis on Wednesday.
There was also anger among local party activists in Nottingham at the role of Hoon, the MP for Ashfield.
The backlash is a local illustration of what is happening in Labour ranks nationally. On Wednesday, Downing Street monitored the Labour grassroots response to Hoon and Hewitt through Twitter, finding little or no support for their push.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017