Hoon is latest minister to walk out on Brown

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon is the latest senior government minister to quit embattled British Prime Minster Gordon Brown's government, following work and pensions secretary James Purnell and defence secretary John Hutton.


In the wake of an expenses scandal that has shaken all British MPs, Geoff Hoon, transport minister, announced his decision to step down on Sky News television. Seen as a close ally of former PM Tony Blair, Hoon was recently forced to restitute money he unjustifiably received for the reimbursement of parliamentary expenses.

Over the last week, four other senior cabinet ministers have signalled their departure including home secretary Jacqui Smith on Tuesday and defence secretary John Hutton on Friday. Work and pensions secretary James Purnell also stepped down on Thursday, calling on Brown to quit his job.

As early results of local council elections show the Labour Party suffering heavy defeats across the UK, the British media are speculating on when – and not whether – the British PM will resign. A change of leader would raise the prospect of snap election in the autumn rather than the widely expected date of May 2010.

A make-or-break reshuffle

Brown is reshuffling his cabinet in an attempt to quell a nascent backbencher rebellion, as some Labour MPs are gathering signatures to unseat him.

Alan Johnson has been moved from the health ministry to the powerful home office. According 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.”

In an interview with Sky News television, Johnson denied reports he wanted to replace Brown: “I'm flattered obviously that people think highly of me, I want them to think highly of me as a home secretary in a Labour government serving under the prime minister.”

Andy Burnham is tipped to become health secretary and Bob Ainsworth is said to replace Hutton as defence secretary.

Friday’s cabinet reshuffle, the second in eight months, has so far left heavyweights like Alistair Darling, Finance minister, and foreign secretary David Miliband in their jobs, despite media reports he 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.

An electoral drubbing

Labour saw its popular support evaporate on Friday after it suffered heavy defeats across the country in local council elections. 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 abused of the parliamentary second residence allowance to pay for luxury fittings and home appliances.  

In Staffordshire, under Labour control since 1981, councillor Derek Davis said the party had suffered a "complete wipe-out" after losing 29 seats as the Conservatives romped home.

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.

However, early results show Labour’s lost votes were spread among opposition parties, with no clear beneficiary. That suggests that an early parliamentary election might not produce as big a Conservative majority as polls have indicated.

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