As expected, Thursday’s local elections in Britain turned out to be a disaster for the governing Labour party. With 33 out of 34 districts declared, results show that Labour has lost 268 councillors and are left with only 176. The Conservatives have gained 230 councillors which means they now have 1476, while the Liberal Democrats lost only 4, ending with 473 councillors. For results, see:
The election results come as a further blow to the beleaguered Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is now left with little if any authority and should now take the consequences of that. Tuesday saw the resignation of four ministers, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, while Communities Secretary Hazel Blears announced her resignation on Wednesday morning, followed by Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell, who quit on Thursday, calling for the Prime Minister to “stand aside to give Labour a fighting chance of winning the next election”. Yesterday Defence Secretary John Hutton also resigned, followed by Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, Europe Minister Caroline Flint and Wales Secretary Paul Murphy.
This mass defection from the government threw Gordon Brown’s planned reshuffle into disarray. The Prime Minister had reportedly intended to let Business Secretary Peter Mandelson replace David Miliband as Foreign Secretary and to make Education Secretary Ed Balls Chancellor of the Exchequer by removing Alistair Darling. These plans now had to be scrapped as Brown had to concentrate on filling the vacancies left by the mass of departing ministers. As the leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, said on Wednesday, the cabinet is now reshuffling itself.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson, seen as a likely challenger to Brown’s leadership, was promoted to Home Secretary, while the relatively unknown MP Bob Ainsworth was made Defence Secretary and Glenys Kinnock (wife of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and mother-in-law of the leader of the Danish Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt) became Europe Minister. Yvette Cooper was appointed Work and Pensions Secretary and Lord Adonis Transport Secretary. For an overview of the old and new cabinet, see:
While the government itself has been falling apart an e-mail has been circulating in the Labour Party’s parliamentary group, attempting to collect signatures for a letter calling on Gordon Brown to resign. Last evening Brown declared that he would stay on, but it seems doubtful if he will be able to do so. What might yet save him is if no serious challenger steps forward. Ambitious rivals who might otherwise gladly have done so in this situation may be dissuaded by the fact that a general election must be held within a year and that assuming the party leadership now almost inevitably would mean leading the party to defeat.
In my opinion a prime minister who has lost control over his own cabinet is too weakened to lead a country. The Guardian reached much of the same conclusion yesterday: “Any prime minister, however powerful, serves as a member of a cabinet. When that cabinet loses faith in him or her, and its members start saying so in public, the leader cannot stay. […] The truth is that it is all over. To cling to office now would [be] to do the Labour cause, and the country, huge harm. If Mr Brown does not recognise that fact, others will have to do it for him”.