British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was bracing yesterday for the results of European elections expected to see his Labour party hammered, and which could deal a fatal blow to his fragile leadership.
Brown, already battling a deep recession and public anger over an expenses row, is fighting for his job after a torrid week that saw 10 ministers resign, disastrous local election results and reports of a plot to oust him.
He enjoyed a brief respite on Saturday with a trip to France for D-Day commemorations.
“I think it’s important to recognize that in these unprecedented times, we are bound to have ups and downs in politics,” he told reporters in Normandy.
“We keep on with the task at hand ... We are not diverted,” Brown said.
But the pressure resumed yesterday as ministers prepared for results from the European Parliament elections in which polls suggest Brown’s Labour party could come third or even fourth, with the main opposition Conservatives in the lead.
Fringe parties such as the anti-European UK Independence Party (Ukip) and the far-right British National Party (BNP) are also expected to benefit from voter anger at Labour, which has been in power since 1997.
The Observer newspaper reported yesterday that any significant success for the BNP — which is hoping to win its first member in the EU parliament — could spark a rebellion from Labour lawmakers, who would view it as a failure to engage voters.
Reports of a rebellion by Labour backbenchers last week failed to materialize after Brown reshuffled his Cabinet and several high profile ministers publicly pledged their support for his leadership.
But concerns remain that he cannot lead them to electoral success — opinion polls suggest the Conservatives would easily win a national election — and a bad showing in the European vote would reinforce these.
The mood among grassroots supporters, traditionally loyal to the leadership, is also grim.
A YouGov/Channel 4 News poll of 800 Labour activists found 47 percent wanted Brown to quit — 21 percent said he should go immediately.
Just 46 percent said they wanted him to lead Labour into the next general election, which is due by next June, and only 16 percent thought Labour was likely to win under his leadership, with 45 percent saying it was not likely.
However, the man who has been widely tipped as Brown’s successor, Alan Johnson, who was appointed home secretary in Friday’s Cabinet reshuffle, repeated his support for the prime minister in a magazine interview.
“I think it would be wrong to challenge Gordon,” Johnson told the New Statesman to appear on Thursday, insisting he was “the best man for the job.”
Labour Member of Parliament Jon Cruddas, who came third in the party’s deputy leadership election in 2007, wrote in the Sunday Mirror that it would be “madness” to oust Brown and Labour must “pull ourselves together.”
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