Brown set for European mauling

June 7, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, June 7 – Under-fire British Prime Minister Gordon Brown readied Sunday for the results of European elections that could see his Labour party savaged and deal a potentially fatal blow to his fragile leadership.

Brown, reeling after a chaotic week in which 10 government ministers resigned amid disastrous local elections, is facing intense public anger over a deep recession and the escalating row over lawmakers’ expenses.

Pressure mounted Sunday ahead of results from the European Parliament elections in which polls suggest Labour could come third or even fourth, with the main opposition Conservatives in the lead.

Results from the European elections held across the 27-nation bloc are expected after 2000 GMT.

Fringe parties in Britain, such as the anti-European UK Independence Party (Ukip) and the far-right British National Party (BNP), are also forecast to benefit from voter anger at Labour, which has been in power since 1997.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, quizzed on BBC television, warned party rebels that any attempt to replace Brown would spark a general election.

"If we were to have a third leader in a single parliament it would mean irresistible pressure to hold a general election before we were able to carry out the changes in the economy, and public services, and Westminster, that people want to see from us," Mandelson said.

Reports of a rebellion by Labour backbenchers last week failed to materialise 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.

Brown faced fresh embarrassment on Sunday from a leaked email written by Mandelson in which he described Brown as "self-conscious" and "insecure".

Mandelson has reportedly been instrumental in shoring up support for Brown in the past week, but the email — written in January 2008 before Mandelson rejoined the government — describes a man "uncomfortable in his skin".

The Business Secretary told BBC television that the email was "not in the least bit hostile".

He added: "It was not hostile to or about the PM… It said that the PM needs to be what he is, be what he stands for, and not listen to people who are trying to glue some artificial persona onto him."

The Observer newspaper reported Sunday 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.

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 June 2010 — and only 16 percent thought Labour was likely to win under his leadership, with 45 percent saying it was not likely.

On Thursday, James Purnell quit as work and pensions secretary saying Labour had no chance of winning the next general election under Brown.

However, the man tipped as Brown’s successor, Alan Johnson, who was appointed home secretary in Friday’s cabinet reshuffle, has repeated his support for the prime minister.

Another Labour MP, 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 the premier.


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