British PM Brown vows to fight on
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British PM Brown vows to fight on

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown went onto the world stage at D-Day commemorations on Saturday hoping that a hasty cabinet reshuffle would salvage his premiership.

world Updated: Jun 06, 2009 15:31 IST

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown went onto the world stage at D-Day commemorations on Saturday hoping that a hasty cabinet reshuffle would salvage his premiership.

A defiant Brown vowed to tough it out after 10 ministers quit in bitter circumstances and his governing Labour Party suffered a bloodbath in local elections.

But many newspapers said the government is now fatally wounded and called for a general election. Labour rebels were also reportedly considering new moves, with predicted dire European parliament election results likely to reignite backbench unrest when they are announced on Sunday.

"I will not waver, I will not walk away... I will get on with the job," Brown said on Friday after announcing a limited reshuffle in a bid to shore up his position.

The shake-up was brought forward ahead of Saturday's trip to France to be alongside US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after four cabinet ministers -- some embroiled in a row over personal expenses -- quit in quick succession.

Ten ministers have now resigned in the past week.

Brown will be hoping his hasty reshuffle ahead of a key overseas trip does not bring a repeat of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's downfall which came as she was holed up at a European summit in Paris in November 1990. Two days after the summit she gave up the battle.

In a day of political high drama on Friday, James Purnell quit as work and pensions secretary, saying that under Brown, Labour had no chance of winning the next general election, due by June 2010 at the latest.

Then Europe minister Caroline Flint stormed out saying the premier had "strained every sinew" of her loyalty, running a "two-tier" government with women used as "female window dressing".

Defence Secretary John Hutton, Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy also stepped down Friday, but without knifing Brown.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson was instrumental in stopping further ministers from following Purnell, with some persuasive late-night telephone calls, media reported.

He was rewarded with the added title of first secretary of state -- de facto deputy prime minister -- but denied he was now the "kingmaker" in the British government.

Mandelson insisted that getting rid of Brown would have spelled doom for the Labour Party and an inevitable swift general election.

"Another leader couldn't simply mean another coronation; you would have to have a leadership contest," he told The Times newspaper.

"A picture would be presented to the country that is entirely self-indulgent. A general election shortly afterwards would be unavoidable too."

Mandelson said the mood inside Brown's Downing Street office had been calm. "No phones have been thrown," he said.

On Wednesday, Brown repeatedly failed to give job assurances to finance minister Alistair Darling. Crucially, he remains in place, which commentators said showed Brown was critically damaged, without the authority or the nerve to sack Darling, nor touch other senior ministers like Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

The Sun newspaper on Saturday said Brown was "desperately weakened", having been "sabotaged" by his own party, and called for a general election.

The Financial Times newspaper said Brown was "still standing -- just. The question is whether he can still govern.

"He has failed to reassert his authority in the cabinet reshuffle. He faces humiliation in the European elections. He should show he commands a clear majority in his party or step down and clear the way for a general election."

Labour plotters were reportedly biding their time ahead of the European parliament election results.

If they mirror the outcome of the English local elections, also held Thursday, Labour will be trounced by the Conservatives -- and could even finish in fourth place if fringe eurosceptic parties do well.

"On Monday, Labour MPs will be considering a very important question -- is Gordon Brown a winner or is Gordon Brown a loser?" warned a disgruntled former minister Stephen Byers.

With results in from 33 out of 34 English councils, the Conservatives have gained 230 seats and Labour have lost 272.

Labour lost all four councils it was defending to the Conservatives, including heartlands like Derbyshire in central England -- which it controlled for 28 years.

First Published: Jun 06, 2009 15:09 IST