Brown braces for ‘terrible’ election result

(Bloomberg) – Gordon Brown’s Labour Party was bracing for defeat in elec-tions for the European Par-liament as more lawmak-ers from Britain’s ruling party called on the prime minister to step down.

‘Can we get unity under the current leadership? I don’t think we can,’ Charles Falconer, the for-mer lord chancellor in charge of the judiciary, said on the BBC’s ‘Politics Show’ in London today. ‘We need to debate that issue. And that may re-quire a change in leader.’

Six ministers left Brown’s Cabinet last week, one calling for him to re-sign, as Labour trailed Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in voting for local government officials in England. With less than a year before the next gen-eral election, Labour law-makers are questioning whether Brown is the man to lead them.

‘A majority of Labour MPs, whether they are prepared to express it or not, feel he needs to go,’ Siobhain McDonagh said on Sky News.

The rebellion so far is short of the level needed to force Brown into a leader-ship contest. Unless Brown quits, 70 of Labour’s 350 members of Parliament would have to publicly call for him to go before the party would consider re-placing him.

Brown on June 5 said he was ‘not going to walk away’ from the job. Mem-bers of the Cabinet rallied around him today, saying a contest would be electoral suicide.

‘If we were to have a third leader in a single par-liament it would mean ir-resistible pressure for a general election,’ Businesss Secretary Peter Mandelson said on the BBC’s ‘Andrew Marr’ show in London on Sunday.

‘A small number’ of re-bels ‘don’t have the num-bers’ to dislodge Brown, said Tony Lloyd, who leads the Labour Party’s parlia-mentary grouping. Speak-ing on Sky News, Lloyd urged the party to back Brown. Brown will face his critics tomorrow evening at a meeting of the Parlia-mentary Labour Party.

Party members are split on Brown’s future, a poll by YouGov Plc for Channel 4 showed, with 46 percent saying he should lead La-bour into the next election. Forty-seven percent said he should step down before then.

After Brown’s meeting with the parliamentary party tomorrow, Caroline Flint and Stephen Byers, two former ministers who have voiced concerns about the prime minister’s lead-ership, will speak to law-makers.

Wales Secretary Peter Hain said today that the results for the EU Parlia-ment due by 9 p.m. tonight would be ‘terrible,’ though Brown is the only figure who can lead the party.

‘The prime minister is not some pop star show-man,’ Hain told Sky News. ‘Gordon Brown is a tower-ing figure. He has the grip and experience and the policy experience and the courage. He’s got the de-termination to take the country through.’

‘All of the key figures in the party are solidly behind Gordon Brown,’ Lord Adonis, who was named transport secretary last week, told the BBC.

Since replacing Tony Blair in June 2007, Brown, 58, has lurched from crisis to crisis. Within three months, he called off plans for an early election. Then, he reversed a tax increase for low earners that he or-dered as one of his final acts as chancellor under Blair.

In September 2008, Brown put down a rebel-lion. A month later he moved to rescue Britain’s financial system, eventu-ally taking over Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, the biggest retail bank. Since then, the deepening recession and disclosures of lawmakers’ personal spending have sent his standing in opinion polls to a record low for Labour.

Tessa Jowell, in charge of coordinating the 2012 Olympic Games in London, said Labour would have to ‘earn our way back into the public confidence’ and that the public ‘will want Gordon Brown in charge.’

Others acknowledged that Brown hadn’t con-vinced all members of his party to support his leader-ship and that there would be more difficult days ahead for the prime minis-ter.

‘There is always a level of discontent,’ Home Secre-tary Alan Johnson, the bookmakers’ favorite to take over if Brown quits, told the BBC. ‘You have to get on with it and present a united front.’

McDonagh and Nick Raynsford, another law-maker not in a government post, today publicly joined the rebellion. They sug-gested their support would increase after this evening.

‘I know a large number of people in the Cabinet think he should go,’ said McDonagh.

Raynsford, a former jun-ior minister in charge of local government, drew a parallel with 1983, when there was a challenge to then-Labour leader Mi-chael Foot, who later lost an election to Conservative Margaret Thatcher.

‘There was a sense in the party that we had to pull together,’ Raynsford said on Sky News. ‘We had to be loyal. But the result was a disastrous Labour defeat. The Labour Party is facing a very, very serious electoral meltdown. It’s not good enough to say more of the same.’

Dianne Abbott, who supports Brown, said she thought the real challenge to Brown would come not this week but when Par-liament votes on Mandel-son’s plan to partly privat-ize Royal Mail Group Plc, the national postal service.

‘Mandelson is a ticking time bomb for Gordon,’ Abbott said. ‘The govern-ment will lose that vote. That’s when we’ll have a confidence vote.’