A WARNING that Gordon Brown will face an election before he can become leader of the Labour Party has been issued by the chairman of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs, John McDonnell.
Mr McDonnell made his comments at Saturday's Co-op-sponsored Durham Miners Gala attended by an estimated 80,000 people.
The MP for Hayes and Harlington told the 'Big Meeting' crowds that a smooth transition of power – "a coronation" – would not happen because there needed to be a debate about political direction and Mr Brown was too closely indentified with Government policies which were "turning off Labour voters."
Mr McDonnell claimed that unless radical changes to Labour policy take place, David Cameron's Conservatives would occupy the Government benches in the House of Commons following the next election.
He said: "If the forthcoming leadership election is uncontested, it will be Blair to Brown to Cameron because the Tories will be back. If we don't change policies we will continue this descent into opposition. Gordon Brown is the architect of most of these policies that are turning off Labour voters.
"We need a change of political direction and a leadership election will allow us to have that political debate."
Mr McDonnell said the sooner Mr Blair steps down as PM, the better off Labour would be, but he said it would be for the Prime Minister to decide when to go.
"I believe he will get his ten years next year and then step down in time for the party conference. I wish him well in retirement, but I would like to see that retirement soon."
The Prime Minister was also criticised by the General Secretary of the Durham miners, Dave Hopper, who said the conflict in Iraq had exposed the hypocrisy of the Government and undermined its credibility.
Added Mr Hopper: "Blair now leads a party bereft of democracy in which there is no accountability and from which the membership is haemorrhaging. He seems hell bent on destroying the party before he does the honourable thing and goes."
Earlier, the North East Co-op banner was among dozens paraded through the street of Durham, while at the meeting ground, the Co-operative Group had a major presence thanks to a large marquee and a Co-op roadshow trailer where over 100 people signed up as members.
In the marquee, archive footage of the 1910 and 1962 Galas proved a big lure for visitors and, once inside, people were able to enjoy samples of Fairtrade chocolate and meet representatives of CIS, the Woodcraft Folk, the Phone Co-op and other co-operative organisations.
Regional Secretary Suzanne Heron told the News there had been a lot of interest in the Co-op marquee and trailer and said that it was likely the Group would want to continue its sponsorship for this important and historic community event.