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PM Brown 'survives' leadership challenge, but not unscathed

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-01-07

PM Gordon Brown looks to have dodged the leadership challenge, with even his challenger admitting the bid had failed. An opinion poll published Tuesday indicated that a change in leadership would not affect voter’s choice in the upcoming election.

AFP - A former British cabinet minister who called for a secret ballot on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s future admitted that his surprise move had failed, but newspapers said the plot had still weakened the Labour leader.

However, an opinion poll published on Thursday indicated that any change in the Labour Party’s leadership would make no difference to how a majority of Britons will vote in the next general election, which is due by June.

Former defence secretary Geoff Hoon and ex-health secretary Patricia Hewitt called on Wednesday for Labour members of parliament to vote on Brown’s leadership, saying this would help to heal divisions in the party which is trailing in opinion polls. But Hoon said he had failed to gain support.

“This was an opportunity for Labour MPs to recognise that there are these divisions, to publicly accept it and try and resolve it,” Hoon told BBC TV. “They chose not to.”

An unexpected political storm

The poll in the Sun newspaper showed Labour trailing the opposition Conservatives by nine percentage points, and British media noted that a slow and tepid response to the ballot call by many of Brown’s most senior colleagues may cause longer-lasting damage.

The timing of the plot was a surprise as Labour had started to claw back some ground from the Conservatives in recent polls.

The Sun poll, carried out on Jan. 5-6, showed the Conservatives with 40 percent support, Labour on 31 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 17 percent. Almost three fifths of voters -- 58 percent—said a new Labour leader would not affect their decision.

Brown’s influential business secretary Peter Mandelson dismissed the ballot call as nothing more than a distraction.

“I do not have a queue of cabinet ministers at my door or on the phone saying they want to change the leader,” he told the BBC. “I didn’t have to arm twist or persuade anyone.”

But Foreign Secretary David Miliband, a leading candidate to replace Brown, took over six hours to pledge his support for the prime minister, while other ministers gave their backing with varying levels of enthusiasm, newspapers noted.

The BBC reported that those behind the ballot call thought they had the support of six senior ministers.

“The plotters may have exposed their own weakness and may soon look like a spent force,” the Guardian newspaper said. “But Brown too has been wounded and weakened once again—just when he and Labour needed to gather their strength to fight the enemy beyond.”

Brown served as finance minister for a decade under Tony Blair before replacing him mid-term in 2007. But he riled many during that time with his desire for the top job.

His critics also say he lacks charisma and his ratings have suffered during a deep recession and over his handling of the increasingly bloody campaign in Afghanistan.

Date created : 2010-01-07


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