A defiant Gordon Brown vowed to tough it out as Britain’s prime minister after Cabinet members quit in bitter circumstances and his governing Labour Party suffered electoral meltdown.
“I will not waver, I will not walk away… I will get on with the job,”
Brown told a news conference after announcing a swift but limited cabinet reshuffle in a bid to stem the haemorrhaging of authority in his position.
Spate of resignations
The shake-up, originally expected next week, was brought forward after four Cabinet ministers quit within 24 hours — taking the total number of ministerial resignations in the past week to 10.
James Purnell delivered a withering call for Brown to stand down or lead Labour to disaster at the next general election as he quit as work and pensions secretary.
The resignations of defence secretary John Hutton, transport secretary Geoff Hoon and Welsh secretary Paul Murphy followed hours later.
Then Europe minister Caroline Flint quit — during Brown’s press conference — with an extraordinary attack on the prime minister.
PM under attack
She accused him of using her and other women as “female window dressing” and running a “two-tier” government with an “inner” Cabinet circle.
In his resignation letter late Thursday, Purnell said: “Your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less, likely. That would be disastrous for our country.”
“I am therefore calling on you to stand aside to give our party a fighting chance of winning.”
David Cameron, leader of the main opposition Conservatives, said Friday’s events showed the government was “completely falling apart.”
“He is not reshuffling the cabinet, the cabinet is reshuffling him,” Cameron said of Brown.
“The argument for a general election has always been strong; now it is unanswerable.”
A national vote must be held by the middle of next year at the latest.
Brown acknowledges situation
In his news conference, Brown acknowledged the damage caused by a scandal over lawmakers’ expenses and admitted his party was in line for a “painful defeat” after English local and European parliamentary elections held Thursday.
Although the European election results are not due until Sunday, Labour has suffered heavy losses in the council elections.
With results in from 30 out of 34 councils, the Conservatives have gained
217 seats and Labour have lost 250.
Labour surrendered to the Conservatives heartlands like Derbyshire in central England — which it controlled for 28 years — and Lancashire in the northwest.
Fringe parties also did well — the English Democrats, who want withdrawal from the European Union and an end to mass immigration, won the vote for mayor of Doncaster, a northern English town which was a Labour stronghold.
The far-right British National Party, hoping to win its first MEP, has gained its first three county councillors.
The BBC said if the results were replicated in a general election, Labour would be beaten into third place.
Bookies predict August exit
The party now also faces a tense by-election after Ian Gibson, a backbench lawmaker caught up in the expenses scandal, said he would stand down immediately.
Bookmakers Paddy Power are paying out on bets that Brown will leave his job before the end of August.
There was glimmer of light for him Friday as Alan Johnson, seen by many commentators as his most likely replacement, took over as home secretary and insisted he was not seeking to be premier.
Despite reports that Brown wanted to move heavyweights like finance minister Alistair Darling and Foreign Secretary David Miliband out of their jobs, they remained in place.
Darling had been tipped to make way for Brown’s loyal lieutenant, Schools Secretary Ed Balls, but commentators said the premier no longer had the authority to push the move through.
Flint was replaced as Europe minister by former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock’s wife Glenys, currently a European parliament member who will be appointed to the unelected upper House of Lords chamber.
Expenses scandal sees 17 leave
In power since 1997, Labour has been badly hit by the scandal over lavish expense claims from the public purse by lawmakers which has seen 17 MPs say they will step down since it broke.
Public anger is particularly high as Britain is struggling with the worst recession since World War II.