- elections - European elections - Gordon Brown - UK
Reuters - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown survived a challenge to his authority on Monday, winning over Labour members of parliament after admitting mistakes and taking responsibility for a week of political turmoil.
Addressing Labour’s 350 MPs a day after his party suffered a resounding defeat in European elections, Brown expressed contrition but said he was determined to fight on as leader after one of the most difficult weeks of his premiership.
“I know I need to improve,” Brown told the MPs, according to a spokesman. “I have my strengths and I have my weaknesses. There are some things I can do well, some not so well.
“You solve the problem not by walking away but by facing it and doing something about it,” he said, earning cheers and applause from the majority in the room, according to witnesses.
Several senior Labour members, including well-known critic Charles Clarke, a former interior minister, called for Brown to step down. However, most threw their weight behind him ahead of a general election due within a year which the opposition centre-right Conservatives are tipped to win.
The head of Labour’s parliamentary group, Tony Lloyd, said he now saw little chance of Brown being ousted from office.
“I do not believe there will be any challenge to Gordon Brown within our party,” he told Sky News.
Others who attended the meeting and are regarded as Brown critics said the prime minister had been “put on probation”, suggesting there would be no immediate further challenge to his leadership.
Scandal and resignations
Brown, in power since 2007 when he took over from Tony Blair in mid-term, has been under pressure since a parliamentary expenses scandal caused popular disillusion with politics and particularly the party that has been in power for 12 years.
The unrest prompted six senior ministers to resign last week and led to a cabinet reshuffle in which Brown sought to reassert his authority, only to have it undermined again by Sunday’s European election results in which Labour took its smallest share of a national vote in nearly 100 years.
The collapse in the Labour vote in the European Parliament election, which followed a dismal showing in local government elections last week, helped the far-right British National Party win its first two seats in the assembly.
Labour won 15.7 percent of the European vote, behind the anti-EU UK Independence Party with 16.5 percent and the Conservatives with 27.7 percent. Labour’s vote was about seven points down from the 2004 European election.
Opinion polls forecast a big election win for the Conservatives at a time when Britain is grappling with recession and voters are angry over MPs’ expenses. Labour MPs acknowledge the party’s position and have said Brown should remain at the helm.
“We are not going to get a fourth term (in government) unless we end this leadership speculation,” Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary, told reporters after Monday’s meeting.
Yet Brown remains under pressure. As well as having his authority questioned, one junior minister who resigned accused him of treating her as “window dressing”, while another who quit on Monday said she was tired of “threats and intimidation”.
Although considered a sharp politician, Brown has a less engaging manner than his predecessor Blair, frequently appearing dour and failing to connect with voters.
Investors have been unsettled by the prospect of a leadership battle at a time of economic turmoil and soaring government borrowing. The uncertainty has weakened the pound.
Markets are concerned a future government may not command a strong majority after the Conservatives failed to gain significantly in the European election. All the main parties have been tainted by the expenses scandal.
A change of Labour leader would almost certainly precipitate an early election this year which Labour is in no shape to fight.
Brown and his leadership circle believe their best chance of winning an election rests on a strong economic turnaround.
There have been some signs that Britain may be starting to emerge from recession faster than forecast, but Bank of England policymakers have said the recovery may be slow.