Brown pledges change

June 9, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, Jun 9 – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced down critics in his Labour party, admitting weaknesses but pledging to change in a confrontation likely to win him some respite after a week of turmoil.

After seven turbulent days which saw the resignation of 11 ministers, reports of an attempted coup and historic drubbings in local and European elections, Brown promised to fight on but said Labour must reunite.

"I have my strengths and I have my weaknesses. I know there are some things I do well, some things not so well," he told a weekly meeting of Labour MPs.

But he said: "You solve the problem not by walking away but by facing it and doing something about it."

Labour was beaten into third place in Thursday’s European elections, behind the main opposition Conservatives and the once fringe anti-Europeans the UK Independence Party (UKIP), in a humiliating defeat for the ruling party.

The closed door meeting on Monday night was the first time Labour MPs could confront Brown about the results, but while several former ministers called on him openly to quit, a reported rebellion failed to materialise.

Lawmakers said afterwards that Brown gave a strong performance, stressing the need for unity as part of a strategy to get the party back on its feet.

He also promised to change his leadership style to act in a "more collective way", after the latest minister to resign, junior environment spokeswoman Jane Kennedy, accused him of orchestrating "smears" against colleagues.

Brown was applauded as he arrived and Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said there had been an "impressive and strong show of unity" behind him.

However, former home secretary Charles Clarke and former junior transport minister Tom Harris both openly called on Brown to quit, with the latter saying that "if we’re going to win the next election, if we’re going to secure all of our achievements, then we need to have a new leader".

Former transport secretary Stephen Byers repeated this message at a separate meeting of the Progress think tank later, saying: "We need a leader who can win for Labour at the next general election and not take us to a humiliating defeat. Gordon Brown is not that leader."

Yet Harris told the BBC that after Monday’s meeting he would stop agitating for a new leader. Another Brown critic, Barry Sheerman MP, said that if the prime minister kept his promise to change then he too would fall into line.

No details emerged from the meeting of concessions Brown was reportedly considering on plans to part-privatise the Royal Mail postal service, which have been strongly opposed by many Labour MPs.

Newspaper commentators said Brown had won a reprieve, with the Guardian headlining "Brown’s Great Escape" and the Daily Mail saying "Brown lives to fight another day", but they said this was unlikely to last.

"He limps on, disrespected by ministers, resented by backbenchers, disliked by the electorate. He is in office but not in power," said a commentator in the Times newspaper.

The Financial Times reported that Labour rebels still hoped to replace Brown with a more voter-friendly leader before the next general election, which is due by June 2010, with Home Secretary Alan Johnson the favourite for the job.

The Conservatives led by David Cameron are currently well ahead in opinion polls, while 52 percent of voters want Brown to resign immediately, a ComRes/BBC poll of 1,001 adults released Monday said.

In the European Parliament elections, the Conservatives won 27.7 percent of the vote, UKIP 16.5 percent and Labour 15.7 percent, according to the BBC.

The far-right British National Party (BNP), which earned its first two European lawmakers, was in sixth place overall with 6.2 percent of the vote.


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