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Brown putsch peters out, but Labour damaged

London, January 7, 2010

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.   

With little more than five months before an election which ruling Labour is tipped 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 recently.

Labour's popularity has been undermined by a deep recession, an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan and a scandal over politicians' expenses.    

But analysts say the opposition Conservatives have failed to build up a big enough opinion poll lead to make it a foregone conclusion that they will win a parliamentary majority in the election, widely 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 Labour rule.

"It will have diminished his authority to the wider public  -- but within the Labour 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.

Sources said many Labour politicians were "fire and brimstone angry" over the call from ex-defence 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.

A senior minister, linked to the plot by some British media, dismissed any suggestion that there had been any cabinet involvement.   

"No member of government was involved in yesterday's letter, 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 Labour leader is a lengthy and complex process under the party rules, making a successful coup extremely difficult.

A poll on Thursday in the Sun newspaper suggested that ousting Brown would not change voting intentions, putting Labour nine points behind David Cameron's centre-right Conservatives.
That lead would make the Conservatives the largest party but could leave them just short of an absolute majority.

Cameron seized on the disarray in Labour ranks. "We cannot go on like this, we've got to have an election and a change of government," he said.   

But, with much of Britain smothered in snow and ice in an unusually cold snap, the drama in parliament on Wednesday appeared to pass many Britons by.

"I'm working outside today -- it's too cold and I couldn't care less about the government," 27-year-old electrician Dave Jones, working in south London, said.

Investors, looking for strong leadership following the longest recession on record and reassurance over Britain's sizeable budget deficit, were also unimpressed. "At a time when the pound and gilt market are already feeling the jitters over the fiscal outlook, an additional bout of political uncertainty is hardly well-timed," said Jonathan Loynes, an economist at Capital Economics. - Reuters




Tags: labour | UK | Brown |

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