Meacher set to challenge Brown from left,00.html

Hélène Mulholland
Wednesday December 20, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

Michael Meacher is "well on the way" to announcing his decision to stand in the forthcoming Labour leadership race, according to one of his key supporters.

The decision could split the vote of leftwing Labour MPs and thwart the chances of fellow rebel, John McDonnell, who has already announced that he is standing.

Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham South and a member of the leftwing Socialist Campaign group of MPs, has been canvassing support for the former environment minister to stand as the left's candidate against Gordon Brown.

Mr Simpson said that, with environmental issues rising on the political agenda, Mr Meacher's previous ministerial record in this field would give him credibility in the forthcoming contest.

Tony Blair has said he will stand down before September 2007.

But Mr Simpson emphasised that Mr Meacher would not declare until he had notched up the support 44 MPs, the required number needed to get on the ballot paper.

"He is well on the way to getting the names and he is not going to make any statement at all until he is clear," Mr Simpson said.

The decision could divide the Campaign group; Mr McDonnell - a member of the group - formally announced his unashamedly leftwing candidacy in September.

Due to the number of MP backers each candidate would require, Mr Simpson said that the two men might have to agree that one would stand down to give the other one a clear run.

"The harsh message for both of them is if they neither of them can get the 44 [nominations], there are going to have to be discussions between them about getting people to switch."

Some within the Campaign group were rumoured to be annoyed with Mr McDonnell, MP for Harlington and Hayes, for failing to consult with the wider group before announcing his decision to stand.

However, staunchly leftwing MPs are unlikely to back Mr Meacher, who - unlike Mr McDonnell - supported the war in Iraq.

Mr Meacher - not currently a member of the Campaign group - has since publicly repented his decision to back the war, claiming it was the worst mistake of his political career.

Both Mr Meacher and Mr McDonnell's offices declined to comment.

Mr Simpson also sought to quash rumours that he may stand in the deputy leadership race as part of a dream ticket with Mr Meacher.

"I can say categorically I have made absolutely no indication of being interested in standing for the deputy leadership.

"What I have been trying to do is persuade [Michael] Meacher to stand for the leadership."

It emerged today that another backbench leftwing rebel, Jeremy Corbyn, is considering a bid for the party's deputy leadership race.

Mr Corbyn, who would become the sixth official candidate for John Prescott's job if he stands, told Guardian Unlimited today that he wants to see an anti-war candidate on the ballot.