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Brown gears up for new fight post poll collapse

world Updated: Jun 08, 2009 11:22 IST

AFP
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Embattled British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced a new fight for his leadership on Monday after disastrous European election results that saw his Labour Party humiliated and a surge in far-right support.

The anti-immigration British National Party won its first ever seats in the European Parliament, while the anti-European United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) looked set to win more support than Labour in a national count.

Ahead of the final results expected later on Monday, the BBC projected Labour would win just 16 percent of the vote, behind the main opposition Conservatives on 27 percent and Ukip -- which wants Britain out of the EU -- on 17 percent.

The results up the pressure on Brown, who is fighting to reassert his authority after a turbulent week that saw 10 ministers resign, a Labour vote collapse in local elections and intense speculation about a plot to oust him.

Voters were expected to reward fringe parties as they punished Labour in power since 1997 for a scandal over lawmakers' expenses and the recession.

But the unprecedented success of the BNP, whose leader Nick Griffin is among two new members of the European Parliament elected in seats formerly held by Labour, will be seen by many as a failure by Brown's party to re-engage a disillusioned public.

A reported revolt against the prime minister by Labour MPs last week failed to materialise, halted by his hasty cabinet reshuffle and declarations of loyalty by key ministers, but the EU results could give them a new impetus.

The situation is likely to come to a head in the weekly meeting of Labour MPs in parliament on Monday night.

Newspapers reported that Brown will try to buy off grumbling MPs with promises of a long-demanded inquiry into the war in Iraq and a pledge to shelve controversial plans to part-privatise state-owned postal service Royal Mail.

Cabinet ministers rallied around Brown over the weekend and the prime minister organised an impromptu meeting of Labour party activists in London on Sunday where he said he would soldier on.

"What would they (the public) think of us if ever we walked away from them at a time of need... We are sticking with them," Brown said, adding that it was a "testing time for our whole country".
Business Secretary Peter Mandelson told the rebels Sunday to "stop taking shots" at the prime minister, warned that any leadership change would bring "irresistible pressure" to call a snap election that Labour could well lose.

However, the EU poll defeat, results of 63 of 72 seats suggest Labour lost seven percent of the vote and five seats nationwide, combined with the dire outcome of English council elections last week, will be hard to ignore.

Former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer renewed his call for Brown to be replaced as Labour leader in an article in the Times newspaper on Monday, saying he was unable to lead the fight to win back public support.

"It is so difficult for Gordon Brown, after 12 years as prime minister or chancellor (finance minister, a job Brown held under prime minister Tony Blair between 1997 and 2007), to be a convincing agent of change," Falconer wrote.

He added: "My view is that the painful step of changing our leader, a leader who has given his life to the Labour Party and to public service, would be best for the party and the country."

In an editorial, the Times said the prime minister's position "could hardly be more precarious". "Unity under Brown is now impossible. A paralysed government is terrible for the nation," it said, saying he must be replaced.