SOUTHAMPTON Itchen MP John Denham is sticking by Gordon Brown in the wake of a botched coup designed to topple him.

The Communities Secretary, who was out of the country when an attempt to destabilise Mr Brown was launched by two former cabinet ministers, told the Daily Echo he backed the premier to lead Labour into the general election.

By yesterday, the call by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt for a secret ballot on Mr Brown's leadership appeared to have fallen flat, after their round robin letter was publicly supported by only a handful of backbenchers and Cabinet ministers lined up to offer statements of support for the PM. Mr Denham, who was meeting the foreign minister of Bangladesh when news of the attempted coup broke, told the Echo yesterday: “This is a complete distraction from the very important job of winning the election.

“I believe the Labour Party with Gordon Brown as leader has the best offer and will make the best decisions for this country and it's very important we win the general election.

“Those who did this for a brief day have diverted attention away from that big choice.

“They didn't have anybody else who wanted to put themselves forward as a better leader than Gordon Brown. It was an empty and damaging thing to do.”

He added: “It seems to have died a death within 24 hours. I will be concentrating my energies locally and nationally on helping Labour win the next election. Mr Brown yesterday brushed off the latest attempt to oust him as “a storm in a teacup”.

He told BBC Radio Solent: “It’s taken up very little of my time. I think it’s one of these sidelines in this time when people are far more worried, as they should be, about what we are doing to deal with the weather and to make sure that people are safe and secure.

“So it’s not going to take up much of my time and hasn’t, certainly, taken up much of my time.”

Mr Brown said that, as the drama at Westminster unfolded on Wednesday afternoon, he was in meetings about Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism, and efforts to cope with the snow.

He added that he would continue to “lead from the front”

and “say what I think, even if sometimes it’s unpopular”.