British PM fights for survival

Brown struggles to assert his power amid resignations and alleged plot to oust him.

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    Brown's Labour government has taken the brunt of public anger over
    revelations about lawmakers' creative expenses claims [AFP]

    The grand and imposing Palace of Westminster - the more formal name for Britain's Houses of Parliament - has seen many dramatic days.  The day Gordon Brown fought for survival will join them.

    Late on Thursday night, they were dusting off the political obituaries. His ruling Labour Party had clearly suffered in polls for local councils in England and the European Parliament, but worse a senior figure in his cabinet chose the moment as voting ended to announce his resignations.

    James Purnell handled the brief of work and pensions. He was regarded as very skillful and a possible future leader.

    But as he stepped down, he delivered a serious political blow to Britain's prime minister. His resignation letter, which seemed to be released to the newspapers in time to make their print deadlines, insisted Gordon Brown couldn't lead his party to election victory, so should stand down "to give us a fighting chance".

    The campaign to "Get Gordon" suddenly had a public and high-profile face.

    If, in the next few hours, more cabinet ministers had joined the exodus, Brown would have been finished, the groundswell against him too strong to resist.

    But it didn't happen. Those linked with leadership bids expressed their loyalty and support. The green outside parliament was filled with Brown loyalists giving their backing.

    Limited moves

    Brown then embarked on a cabinet reshuffle, but it was clear some moves he wanted to make were limited by his waning power.

    There would be no move for Alistair Darling, the finance minister, who wasn't given his boss's full support just two days ago. He made clear he wanted finance or nothing and Brown couldn't afford to lose him now.

    Five cabinet ministers were leaving. Some were tied in to the expenses scandal which has engulfed British politics, others for personal reasons or they were being replaced.

    The first test for their replacements was loyalty. Did they support Gordon?

    The prime minister then organised a news conference to tell the world what we already knew, he was staying "not walking away from the challenges" and was going to fight on.

    Yet, it became clear this was a man in charge but not in control. As he was speaking, Caroline Flint, the Europe minister, who had previously expressed her support, announced her resignation in bitter terms, accusing the prime minister of using women as "window dressing" and running the country through an inner circle rather than the cabinet.

    Her comments brought renewed calls from opposition parties for a new national election. 

    Those calls will be ignored by Brown, who now plans to wait until the last possible moment before going to the country, using up parliament's full five-year mandate, in the hope a renewed economic situation will bring a better chance of electoral success. 

    Early next June is the likely date.

    So now Gordon survives. He's beaten off the latest leadership threat and he continues in the job of prime minister.

    It appears his cabinet colleagues have given him one final chance to point his party in the right direction. 

    Brown has had a difficult day and he's smart enough to know there are no more last chances.

     

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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