UK's Labour government faces cabinet resignations, electoral defeat

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Gordon Brown at the the World Economic Forum in 2008

The Labour government of United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown received multiple blows this week after a spate of resignations from the cabinet and losses in local and council elections.

As of this morning, six ministers — Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Communities and Local Government Minister Hazel Blears, Work and Pensions Minister James Purnell, Transport Minister Geoff Hoon, Employment Minister Tony McNulty and Defence Minister John Hutton — had all handed in notices of resignation from the cabinet as fallout from the Members' expenses scandal spread.

Mr Purnell's resignation included an admonition for Gordon Brown to step down as Prime Minister and allow the Labour Party to choose a new leader. In his letter of resignation, Purnell told the Prime Minister "I owe it to our party to say what I believe no matter how hard that may be. I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely."

However, when John Hutton, a known critic of Brown who once predicted that Brown would be a 'Fucking disaster'[1], resigned he gave his full backing to the Prime Minister. "I firmly believe that Gordon Brown is the right man to lead our party and our country".

Incoming results from Thursday's local elections also show heavy losses for Labour, with the party in control of none of the councils which have yet declared results. The last Labour-run County councils — Lancashire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire — were all lost. In Staffordshire there was a wipeout of Labour, going from 32 council seats to just three. Another telling figure was the result from St Ives in Cambridgeshire: Labour's candidates placed last, behind the Official Monster Raving Loony Party's "Lord Toby Jug".

While the results from the 2009 European Elections, which the United Kingdom also voted in on Thursday, will not be counted until Sunday, polling before the election indicated Labour's share of the vote could be only the fourth largest, after the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP.

Labour's troubles have prompted the Prime Minister to re-shuffle his cabinet, with Health Minister Alan Johnson becoming the new Home Secretary. His role of Health Secretary was taken by Andy Burnham. Tony Blair's former spin doctor Peter Mandelson taking an expanded portfolio along with Gordon Brown's own former title of First Minister.

Staying in their positions are Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary and Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary. Peter Hain, who resigned from the government last year returns as Welsh Secretary. Ben Bradshaw becomes the new Culture Secretary. Lord Adonis has become the new Transport Secretary, meaning that there are now two Lords in charge in major spending Government departments, and three Peers in the Cabinet. This has caused some controversy for Brown.

Drawing from the business world, Sir Alan Sugar, the hard-nosed tycoon who hosts the UK's version of The Apprentice, has been appointed as 'enterprise Tsar'.

There are now just three full members of the Cabinet who are women: Yvette Cooper, Baroness Royall and Harriet Harman.

Despite the setbacks, Brown said at a press conference this evening that he would "fight on" and rejected calls to step aside, saying "I have faith in doing my duty... I believe in never walking away in difficult times."

However, even after such a dramatic day the bad news kept on coming for Brown. Caroline Flint, hitherto the Europe Minister resigned from government, attacking Brown's use of female politicians as "female window dressing". She accused Brown of running a "two-tier" government with an "inner" cabinet circle. Later Geraldine Smith, the Labour MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale criticized Flint saying "She should have counted to ten before she wrote that letter".