Tempers boiled over yesterday as the MG Rover crisis began to take its toll on Birmingham's politicians.

Sir Albert Bore, leader of the Labour opposition, accused the city council's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of being too pessimistic about the chances of retaining manufacturing at Longbridge.

Sir Albert was critical of the decision by Tory council leader Mike Whitby to write to the Prime Minister demanding a rescue package for the city's industrial base. It was far too early to be talking in such terms, Sir Albert said.

Coun Whitby accused Sir Albert of "talking cheap drivel".

Sir Albert said the Rover Task Force, rather than the city council, ought to be coordinating and leading the region's efforts to save MG Rover.

Sir Albert added: "I note Coun Whitby's letter to the Prime Minister at the weekend. Many of the issues raised in that letter are of vital interest to Birmingham. However, it is too early to be making these kinds of demands upon the Government."

The immediate priority was to ensure that Rover suppliers were supported and that production at Longbridge continued. The council ought not to give up on preserving jobs at Longbridge.

"All of our efforts have to be focused on jobs at this stage and the broader economic and social investment will need to be co-ordinated by the Task Force," Sir Albert added.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat cabinet members accused Sir Albert of political point scoring.

Coun Whitby said: "We are totally committed to doing everything we possibly can to save jobs at MG Rover. There is no doubt about that."

Addressing Coun Bore, he added: "There was nothing positive about your contribution. We are behind the workforce as much as you. Don't ever try to be cheap like that again."

The council leader was critical of the Prime Minister, who visited Birmingham last Friday without speaking to the council. "Our officers tried for four hours, but he didn't bother to reply. He didn't want to speak to the leader of the city of Birmingham."

Coun Whitby said the council was being pragmatic in addressing the likelihood that MG Rover jobs would disappear. Even the original venture with SAIC would have seen the loss of 2,000 jobs.

He said a council telephone hotline - 0121 464 9812 - set up to deal with inquiries from worried Longbridge workers has fielded more than 450 calls since Friday, with most callers seeking information about welfare benefits.