The Deputy Chief Whip has been accused of leaking the names of Labour MPs who had privately moved against Gordon Brown.

12 MPs are known to have requested nomination papers, the first stage in the process of removing the Prime Minister from office.

Nick Brown, one of Gordon Brown’s closest allies, was named as one of the most influential gay people in Britain by PinkNews.co.uk last year.

He has denied revealing the names of the MPs in question to the press, which was meant to expose them as a small group of troublemakers and rubbish their motives.

However, if a tactical leak did occur, it has backfired.

David Cairns resigned as a minister in the Scotland Office yesterday, the fourth senior MP to go or be pushed out in the past week.

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister the former Roman Catholic priest said:

“Some colleagues requested nomination forms for a leadership contest. When asked my opinion I counselled against this as I argued that it could only lead to further division and internal wrangling.

“Nevertheless they went ahead, their names found their way into the public domain, and, to my dismay, the current crisis began.

“However it is the response to this action that has caused me most unhappiness.

“Rather than seizing the opportunity to open out to the broader party membership a discussion that is being held in private, our response as a government has been to suggest that these were the actions of a tiny number of disaffected people who have taken leave of their senses, are part of some larger plot and are entirely unrepresentative of the Parliamentary Labour Party.”

This dismissive response by the government to the concerns of Labour MPs may strengthen the hand of the rebels.

In a television interview last night former minister George Howarth claimed that people being asked for loyalty oaths.

“Even the whips’ office, which is meant to impose order, is in chaos because a parallel whipping operation is being run behind the back of the Chief Whip, Geoff Hoon, by the Prime Minister’s trusted ally Nick Brown.

“In a neat twist, the formerly on-message “Blair babes” are now leading a cashmere coup,” according to The Times.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland appeared on BBC’s Newsnight programme last night to defend the Prime Minister.

Shaun Woodward defected from the Tory party in 1999 and worked with John Major during his difficult time in office.

He has become closer to Gordon Brown since he became PM.

“There is not a popular leader anywhere in the western world today,” he said, claiming that economic conditions were to blame for Labour’s unpopularity.

“People in my constituency and across the UK will look at what we are doing and say they are in danger of taking leave of the senses.”

The continuing economic turbulence may in fact shore up Gordon Brown’s position in the short term, as to move against him during such a major crisis might be viewed as a fatal error.

However, as Mr Cairns demonstrated, there is real anger at the way MPs’ concerns are being dismissed by Downing St.

In his letter accepting Mr Cairn’s resignation, the Prime Minister said:

“As you know, the world is facing a time of economic upheaval.

“I believe it is vital that we as a Government, and as a country, stand together in the face of these difficult times and concentrate all our efforts on helping the British people to come through them.

“I do not agree with you that this is the time at which the Labour Party should be focused on internal debates.”