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Brown defies calls to step down, shakes up cabinet

Video by Bénédicte PAVIOT

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-06-06

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted he would stay in his job on Friday despite a wave of ministerial resignations in the wake of Labour's "painful defeat" in local elections.

Gordon Brown admitted mistakes had been made at a press conference on Friday but refused to step down as he announced an expected cabinet reshuffle. The British prime minister voiced confidence in his new cabinet, vowing to clean up politics and tackle the recession.


“I think people will see we are not shirking our responsibility and that getting on with the job […] is the right thing for Britain,” he said.


As early results of local council elections show the Labour Party suffering heavy defeats across the UK, Brown admitted his government had suffered a “very big defeat”.


The reshuffled government sees the popular Alan Johnson move from the health department to the powerful Home Office. According to FRANCE 24’s Benedicte Paviot in London, Johnson “is widely touted in certain circles in parliament as being the man who would replace Brown should he stand down.” These are allegations Johnson has denied.


Peter Mandelson, seen as a key advisor to Brown, gains more powers as he keeps his position as business secretary and rises to “the first secretary of state”.


Among others, armed forces minister Bob Ainsworth has been promoted to defence, taking on responsibility for Britain’s troops in Afghanistan.


A string of resignations


Transport secretary Geoff Hoon was the latest cabinet minister to quit his job on Friday, shortly after defence secretary John Hutton, who underlined his loyalty to Brown and cited personal reasons for his departure.


Unlike Hutton, Europe minister Caroline Flint, slated Brown as she resigned from her non-cabinet position on Friday, accusing him of operating “a two-tier government: your inner circle and the remainder of the cabinet.” Likewise, James Purnell delivered a withering call for Brown to stand down as he resigned as work and pensions secretary.


Over the last few days, six senior cabinet ministers announced their departure including home secretary Jacqui Smith on Tuesday.


Heavyweights keep their posts


Friday’s cabinet reshuffle, the second in eight months, has left heavyweights like Finance minister Alistair Darling and foreign secretary David Miliband in their jobs, despite media reports Brown wanted to move them.


“Different sources tell us that actually Mr Brown wanted to move Alistair Darling,” says Paviot. At a time when Brown is launching a make-or-break reshuffle, this could mean Brown cannot do what he really wants to. “That’s not a good sign,” says Paviot.


Brown denied any split with Darling on Friday. "Alistair Darling is not only a very good personal friend of mine and I have known him for many years... but he has also been a great chancellor," he said.


An electoral drubbing


Despite his combative attitude, the British PM recognised that local elections had represented "a painful defeat" for Labour.


The party that dominated British politics for over a decade saw its popular support evaporate on Friday. Public anger over the slumping economy and the expenses scandal is said to explain the thrashing suffered by the party. Last month, leaked documents in the UK daily The Telegraph showed some MPs had taken advantage of the parliamentary second residence allowance to pay for luxury fittings and home appliances.


The BBC calculated that Labour's projected share of Thursday’s national vote had slumped to 23 percent, behind the Conservatives on 38 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 28 percent.



Date created : 2009-06-05