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Europe
Brown shakes up cabinet amid crisis
British PM reshuffles government and refuses to resign as fourth minister quits.
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2009 16:52 GMT
John Hutton, right, on Friday said he was stepping down as defence secretary [AFP]

Gordon Brown, Britain's prime minister, has reshuffled his government amid a leadership crisis following the resignation of four cabinet ministers in the past week.

The main change saw Alan Johnson, widely seen as a rival to Brown's position, promoted from health to interior minister, while Alistair Darling, finance minister, retained his role despite rumours he would lose his job.

John Hutton, defence secretary, announced on Friday he was stepping down, although would stay loyal to the prime minister, just hours after James Purnell, work and pensions secretary, quit the cabinet and called on Brown to resign.

The reshuffle comes a day after Britain went to the polls in European and local elections, in which voters were expected to express their anger over a scandal regarding the expenses of several politicians.

Brown steadfast

In a news conference later on Friday, Brown said he had no plans to step aside as prime minister and said that he would introduce a regulatory body to supervise politicians' expenses.

"I am, therefore, calling on you to stand aside to give our party a fighting chance of winning"

James Purnell MP, in open letter to prime minister

Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent in London, said the prime minister's decision not to resign was not a surprise given how much Brown had craved the job in the first place.

Fisher said Brown faced an uphill battle to win the next election and that "he has a lot of work to do to reconnect with the public".

Early results from Thursday's local authority elections showed signs of a swing against the ruling Labour party, with it losing seats to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Labour members of parliament have also been gathering signatures to unseat Brown, increasing the possibility of early elections in the country.

'Stand aside'

Purnell, who resigned late on Thursday, called in a letter to the Times newspaper for Brown to go.

"I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less, likely," he wrote.

"I am, therefore, calling on you to stand aside to give our party a fighting chance of winning."

Brown's government and the country's major political parties have been hit hard by weeks of leaked details about politicians' expense claims.

Darling has repaid some money after he acknowledged mistakes in his expenses claims and has faced criticism over his manipulation of the housing allowance system.

Unity plea

Jacqui Smith, then interior minister, was the first to announce that she was quitting over the scandal. Hazel Blears, another minister, followed suit.

Johnson, tipped as the likeliest replacement for Brown, has urged colleagues to unite behind their leader in the wake of likely poor election results.

"I continue to believe that Gordon Brown is the best man for the job," Johnson said in a statement.

"It is vital now, more than ever, that we unite for the sake of the party and the government."

Brown replaced Tony Blair in June 2007. He has gained praise overseas for his handling of the global economic crisis, but seen his domestic approval ratings tumble.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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