Thursday, January 7, 2010
Anti-Brown putsch fizzles, but UK's Labor damaged
Thu Jan 7, 2010 10:10am EST
LONDON (Reuters) - An attempt to oust British Prime Minister Gordon Brown ran out of steam on Thursday after two ex-cabinet plotters failed to win public support from ministers, but analysts said Brown's authority had been shaken.
Brown called the challenge to his leadership "a storm in a teacup," saying he had the full backing of his cabinet.
Only months before an election, which the ruling Labor Party is expected to lose, Wednesday's plot could not have come at a worse time for Brown, especially as his poor opinion poll ratings have been showing signs of improvement.
Labor's popularity has been hit by a deep recession, an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan and a scandal over politicians' expenses.
Political analysts say the opposition Conservatives have failed to build up a big enough poll lead to guarantee a parliamentary majority in the election, expected to be held in early May.
Having seen off a second coup attempt in little over six months, Brown's position now looks secure at least until the election, which is expected to end 13 years of Labor rule.
"It will have diminished his authority to the wider public, but within the Labor party it may well strengthen his position in the run-up the election because the attack seems so ill-judged," said Justin Fisher, professor of political science at Brunel University.
Party officials said many Labor politicians were "fire and brimstone angry" over the call from ex-defense minister Geoff Hoon and ex-health minister Patricia Hewitt for a secret ballot on Brown's future, fearing it might undermine the party's pre-election campaign.
"This move has misjudged the mood here," one aide to Brown told Reuters.
PRESSURE ON STERLING
However, jitters over the strength of Brown's leadership put pressure on sterling for a second day, with markets already on alert over Britain's fragile economy and sizeable budget deficit, set to top 12 percent of gross domestic product this year.
"An additional bout of political uncertainty is hardly well timed," said Jonathan Loynes, an economist at Capital Economics.
Brown told a local radio phone-in programme he was unfazed by the plot and getting on with doing his job.
"This is a bit of a storm in a tea cup," he said. "We are actually dealing with real storms at the moment."
Britain has suffered unusually cold weather this week, heavy snow and ice severely restricting air, rail and road travel and forcing thousands of schools and businesses to close.
A senior minister, linked to Wednesday's plot by some British media, dismissed any suggestion that there had been any cabinet involvement.
"We're all determined to win the election under Gordon's leadership for the good of the country," foreign minister David Miliband, often mentioned as a contender in any leadership challenge, told Sky News.
Hoon admitted late on Wednesday that the plot had failed. Ousting a Labor leader is a long and complex process under the party rules, making a successful coup difficult.
A poll in the Sun newspaper suggested removing Brown would not change voting intentions, putting Labor nine points behind David Cameron's center-right Conservatives. That lead would make the Conservatives the largest party but could leave them short of an absolute majority.
"We cannot go on like this, we've got to have an election and a change of government," Cameron said.
The drama in parliament on Wednesday appeared to pass many potential voters by.
"I'm working outside today. It's too cold and I couldn't care less about the government," said 27-year-old electrician Dave Jones, working in south London.
(Additional reporting by Girish Gupta, Tim Castle, Kate Holton and Keith Weir; Editing by Jon Hemming)