British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced a grim holiday weekend as speculation mounted yesterday over whether he might face a leadership challenge.
Only one Labour deputy broke ranks and publicly called for Brown to go after Friday’s devastating by-election defeat. But according to newspaper reports, even senior figures in Brown’s governing Labour Party were wondering how much more they could tolerate.
The main opposition Conservatives won the previously safe Labour seat of Crewe and Nantwich in northwest England with a mammoth swing of nearly 18 percent, stunning commentators and politicians alike.
Britain is supposed to be enjoying a long weekend off given tomorrow’s spring public holiday.
But that will not stop fevered gossip in political circles as Labour lawmakers — many now fearing for their seats — consider their next moves, eyeing the general election which must come within two years.
Labour deputy Graham Stringer told the BBC it was time for a senior figure in the party to challenge Brown.
“Is it more damaging for the party to change the leader or cross our fingers and hope that things get better?” he asked.
One unnamed senior Labour figure told the Guardian newspaper: “People are not far away from thinking that we cannot win under Gordon Brown. We wish it was different from what it is. But it is hard to avoid looking at the facts.”
The Times newspaper quoted cabinet sources as saying that most ministers now doubted whether Labour could turn around its poll deficit with Brown in charge.
Senior ministers told the daily that the party could not sit still and do nothing if it seemed to be heading towards certain defeat.
The Sun newspaper quoted a cabinet minister as saying: “We have a collective responsibility to do the right thing by the party. We have big problems and they have to be sorted out.”
But the process for ousting a Labour Party leader is lengthy and arduous, unless the Cabinet tells a sitting prime minister his time is up — in which case they become “permanently unavailable,” according to the Labour rule book.
Newspapers listed potential leadership contenders, with Foreign Secretary David Miliband the five to two favorite, the Financial Times said. Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell and Health Secretary Alan Johnson were close behind at six to one.
Some commentators talked of the by-election result as a tipping point.
And as the newspaper editorials raked over the fallout, there was little to lighten the prime minister’s mood.
The Financial Times said the public had turned against Brown — and now Labour should ask whether it should do likewise.
The Independent said Brown’s handling of problems “followed a pattern of denial, adjustment and abstract language that has failed to reassure. It is difficult to see how Mr Brown can find a way out of the hole he has dug for himself.”
The Times said Brown “cannot afford any more self-inflicted disasters.”