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European elections pound Britain's Brown

The prime minister is fighting to win over rebels in his Labour Party after it suffered its worst results in a century.

By Correspondent / June 8, 2009


Gordon Brown's hopes of clinging to power as Britain's prime minister have been dealt a potentially fatal blow after the ruling Labour Party suffered its worst results in 100 years following elections for the European Parliament and local councils.

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The defeat came as many right-of-center and even some fringe parties made gains across Europe. In Britain, the key driver of election results appears to be the damaging revelations about the abuse of expenses by many members of parliament from all three major parties. The scandal has sparked widespread public anger and drove many voters into the arms of smaller political parties.

Mr. Brown was facing a showdown Monday with rebels in his own party, which finished with less then 16 percent of votes for the parliament in Brussels. That put Labour behind not just the resurgent center-right Conservative Party but also the smaller United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which advocates Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

The extreme right British National Party (BNP) made its first national breakthrough by winning two of Britain's European seats, both in the north of England. The gains for the anti-immigrant party, which has a whites-only membership policy, were made by its leader and a veteran far-right activist who cut his political teeth as a member of an organization founded on Adolf Hitler's birthday.

Time for Brown to go?

Labour supporters waking up the morning after the European election were candid about the tumbling support for their party, which has ruled Britain since 1994.

"It's absolutely awful, it's a disaster for Labour," says Gavin Hayes, general secretary of Compass, a Labour pressure group that lobbies for the party to return to more left-of-center ground.

"But fundamentally there is absolutely no point in changing our leader unless the party changes direction," he argues, calling for a reconnection with Labour's traditional working-class base.

Brown is already fighting for his political life following a wave of resignations last week by ministers. The latest departure came Monday when junior minister Jane Kennedy said she had been sacked after refusing to pledge loyalty to him.

The prime minister was expected to attempt to win over restless Labour MPs at a meeting Monday by making a number of concessions on sensitive issues, such as granting an inquiry into Britain's involvement in the Iraq war and backing down on plans to privatize the postal system.

Labour's chief whip, Nick Brown, has urged rebels in the party to decide after the meeting whether to try to oust Gordon Brown or to pledge loyalty. The rebels, many of whom were admirers of Brown's predecessor and rival, Tony Blair, need the backing of 71 of Labour's 350 MPs to trigger a leadership contest, which would likely take place in about three weeks.