British PM says won t quit

June 1, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, June 1 – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has insisted he would not quit despite a scandal over MPs expenses and dire poll ratings for his ruling Labour Party before crunch European and local elections.

He said the expenses furore, which has shown how lawmakers claimed from the public purse for everything from moat cleaning to a duck island, was "appalling" and "offends everything that I believe in".

Every member of parliament would be forced to account for all their expenses from the last four years, he promised.

Some 13 lawmakers from Labour and the main opposition Conservatives have said they will resign since the Daily Telegraph newspaper began publishing the leaked claims three weeks ago.

A new Sunday Telegraph/ICM poll suggested the revelations would hit Brown hard at the European and local elections, in which Britons vote Thursday.

It suggested Labour would come third in the elections for the European Parliament with just 17 percent, behind David Cameron’s Conservatives and the smaller centrist Liberal Democrats.

Even more damagingly, it suggested Labour would also come third in a general election with just 22 percent of the vote — the worst Brown’s party has done in an opinion poll since 1987.

Some 54 percent of those polled thought Labour had been worst affected by the expenses scandal, compared to 13 percent for the Conservatives.

But Brown, who must call a general election by the middle of next year, dismissed suggestions he could step down to make way for a more popular leader.

"Things go up and down," he said in an interview with BBC television. "We’re going through the most difficult economic circumstances the country has faced.

"People are angry rightly because they are worried when they see taxpayers’ money wasted on their MPs and they’re finding it very difficult… in a difficult economic situation," he added, referring to Britain’s recession.

He also said he wanted to introduce a "constitutional renewal" bill and was looking at reforms including the case for a written constitution, lowering the voting age to 16 and reform of the unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Cameron, meanwhile, renewed his calls for a snap general election, telling the BBC the public wanted to "sit in judgement on MPs".

Public anger over expenses is widespread and in a sermon Sunday, the leader of the Scottish Catholic church expressed concern at the "fall from grace" of many people in politics, saying "money (was) at the root of many difficulties".

Cardinal Keith O’Brien called on "those in public service of whatever kind who have failed us to reclaim the high standards which we expect of them".

Turnout at European elections in Britain is usually low, due partly to widespread Eurosceptic sentiment, and in 2004 turnout was just 38 percent.

This time, fringe parties such as the anti-EU UK Independence Party and the far-right British National Party are expected to benefit. Commentators say the BNP could even win its first seat at the European Parliament.

An Economist magazine/YouGov poll last week found that only 31 percent of Britons think its membership of the European Union is a good thing, compared to 37 percent who think it is bad.

ICM interviewed 1,013 adults by telephone May 27-28 for the Sunday Telegraph poll, while YouGov questioned 2,322 adults in Britain May 22-26.


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