LABOR is poised to lose a cabinet minister at the next federal election, with Attorney-General Robert McClelland failing to win the support of preselectors in his blue-ribbon Sydney electorate.
The Sunday Age has learnt Mr McClelland was privately told by factional organisers in his seat of Barton, which spans the suburbs of Brighton-Le-Sands, Kogarah and Arncliffe, that they will not support his bid for another term.
They have urged the long-term Labor frontbencher to ''go quietly'' in a bid to head off a messy preselection brawl.
Mr McClelland's prospects in his seat began to flag when it was revealed that Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes had expressed interest in standing for the next federal election, with his sights set on Barton.
The self-titled ''faceless man'' - a key player in the downfall of former prime minister Kevin Rudd and installation of Prime Minister Julia Gillard - has since walked away from federal politics, vowing to consolidate his powerful union position by renominating for the federal secretary job.
But sources close to Mr Howes said his about-face was due to a widely held view in the national executive that he had been tainted in the eyes of voters over the Rudd coup.
''Paul just needs some distance and time from the mess the factions left after beheading Rudd but I will eat my hat if he is not a player at the election after next,'' a Labor source said.
Despite Mr Howes's decision, preselectors are understood to favour introducing new blood into Barton and have begun looking for candidates.
When asked by The Sunday Age about the brewing stoush, Mr McClelland defended his position and said he was proud to represent his electorate and hold a cabinet position. ''I am confident that I retain the local support necessary to continue representing my constituents,'' he said.
A factional branch member said Mr McClelland was viewed as the ''weak'' link in the Labor cabinet - an accusation denied by the Attorney-General's supporters in the government. A source said: ''This is nothing more than factional heavies moving towards their own misguided ambitions to install one of their own.''