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Gordon Brown hangs on as another minister quits

09 June, 2009

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LONDON: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces a potential challenge to his leadership on Monday after support for his ruling Labour Party plunged to its lowest level in a century in European elections.

The slump in Labour votes, which followed a dismal performance in local government elections last week, helped the far-right British National Party win two seats in the European Parliament, the first time it has been represented there. Brown will face Labour members of parliament on Monday evening, some of whom have openly criticised his style of leadership and urged him to step down to give Labour a fighting chance at the next parliamentary election, due by June 2010.

Bullying: Six senior cabinet ministers resigned last week and junior minister Jane Kennedy was the latest to quit on Monday, saying she was fed up with “the bullying, the threats, the intimidation” that she said was being orchestrated by Brown’s office. A ComRes opinion poll suggested 62 percent of voters want an election as soon as possible. The poll also indicated a change of leader was unlikely to improve Labour’s chances of success. Polls predict a big win for the opposition Conservatives.

“We need to give the Labour party a fighting chance of winning back the support of the people,” Kennedy told Sky television. “Part of my disquiet is that Gordon is not able to do that,” she said. “It’s his style, it’s the type of politics he embraces ... It’s a kind of politics that I have fought against all my life, and I can’t support it.” Brown, who was in the process of reshuffling junior ministers on Monday, has changed his senior cabinet in an effort to reassert his authority over an increasingly fractious party.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman said the European election results were a “very, very bad defeat” for Labour but Brown was “resilient” and would fight on. Opposition centre-right Conservative leader David Cameron challenged Brown to call an election. “It would give the country a fresh start where we so badly need one, with an economy that is in difficulty, with a political system that is in a mess and with a government that is so weak it is just extraordinary,” he said.

Brown’s departure could precipitate an early general election, which the Conservatives are expected to win after 12 years in opposition. But they have yet to flesh out their plans to tackle government borrowing, which is forecast to hit a record 175 billion pounds this year. With most European election results known, Labour had 15.7 percent of the vote, behind the anti-EU UK Independence Party on 16.5 percent and the Conservatives on 27.7. Labour’s vote was about seven points down from the European election in 2004.


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