Brown Vows to Continue as Britain's Prime Minister, Reshuffles Cabinet

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By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 6, 2009

LONDON, June 5 -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed Friday not to resign despite a raft of defections by his top lieutenants, a brewing revolt within his Labor Party and fed-up voters who issued a damning verdict on his leadership in local elections.

"I will not waver. I will not walk away. I will get on with the job," Brown said at a combative news conference at his 10 Downing Street offices, where he repeatedly insisted that he was not "arrogant" or "complacent" and was "the right person leading the right team."

On perhaps the most tumultuous day of his two-year tenure, Brown announced a cabinet reshuffle to try to defibrillate a government from which 11 ministers have resigned in the past three days.

Political analysts said the reshuffle could be Brown's last chance to control the rebellion against him and revive an administration battered by a failing economy and a scandal over parliamentary expense accounts that has reached the top levels of his cabinet.

His Labor Party was shellacked in elections Thursday for local councils and the European Parliament. As results flowed in Friday, the party was running an anemic third behind the resurgent Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, who found themselves ahead of Labor for the first time in years.

With 30 of the 34 contested councils reporting, the Conservatives had added 217 councilors and Labor had lost 250.

"It's a shift away from Labor on a scale that I don't think we've ever seen before -- it's devastating," said Mike Smithson, a political analyst and editor of PoliticalBetting.com.

As details started to leak about the cabinet changes, two resigning government ministers issued sharp rebukes to Brown on their way out the door.

Europe Minister Caroline Flint accused Brown of using female ministers as "window dressing" and said he had "strained every sinew" of her loyalty to the Labor Party.

"You have a two-tier Government -- your inner circle and then the remainder of cabinet," she wrote in her resignation letter, adding, "Several of the women attending cabinet -- myself included -- have been treated by you as little more than female window dressing."

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell, 39, widely seen as a rising star in the party, issued a public letter of resignation Thursday night in which he called on Brown to "stand aside to give our party a fighting chance of winning" the next general election, which must be held by May 2010.

"I owe it to our party to say what I believe no matter how hard that may be," Purnell wrote. "I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely."


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