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Brown battles for survival as 'bin-tax' row simmers

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Gordon Brown: Pressure is mounting on British PM

Gordon Brown: Pressure is mounting on British PM

Gordon Brown: Pressure is mounting on British PM

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was engaged in a battle for his political survival last night amid continuing fallout from disastrous local election results.

With panic rife among Labour backbenchers, Mr Brown has signalled a series of populist measures in a desperate bid to win back voters.

However, the most high profile -- backtracking on controversial pay-as-you-throw litter charges -- immediately threatened to backfire.

Despite Downing Street briefing newspapers that Mr Brown was determined to block the introduction of schemes across England, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) insisted that pilot projects were still going ahead.

The Local Government Association (LGA) branded Mr Brown a "ditherer", and questioned why taxpayers were being asked to fork out £7.5m (€9.5m) on the trials if his mind was already made up. It also warned that denying councils powers to encourage recycling would leave them facing huge fines under EU regulations.

The damning criticism came as senior ministers rallied around their premier in the wake of last Thursday's Labour bloodbath at the polls.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband branded talk of a leadership challenge "utter rubbish", while Justice Secretary Jack Straw and International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander also insisted Mr Brown's position was secure.

Malicious

Tony Lloyd, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, claimed that only "malicious" MPs and those with "personality defects" wanted to kick out the PM.

"Outside of those who have their own personal malice towards Gordon, or the odd one with personality defects, there isn't a challenge to Gordon Brown," he said.

"What there is is a demand of Gordon Brown to begin to do what Labour MPs have been saying to him, to make sure the policies are consistent with Labour's position as a party of fairness and social justice."

But in spite of the show of unity, private grumbling within the party continues.

Mr Brown also faces further strife over the 10p tax rate today, with former welfare minister Frank Field due to table a motion calling on the British government to set out plans for compensating those who lost out in the controversial tax changes.

Tory leader David Cameron will seek to capitalise on Labour's troubles by holding his regular press conference and branding Mr Brown a "desperate man".

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Plans for what critics describe as a "bin tax" descended into chaos last September when Downing Street stepped in at the last possible moment to block an announcement giving the idea a full green light.

Proposals to allow pilot schemes to go ahead were later a surprise inclusion in a Climate Change Bill.

And a Defra spokeswoman insisted yesterday the trials were still going ahead, regardless of Downing Street's apparently implacable opposition.

"Five local authorities will next year be undertaking pilot schemes to create incentives for recycling," she said.

"We will evaluate the impact of those pilots before making a final decision on whether other local authorities can introduce similar schemes."

The three-year trials are being funded with £4.5m (€5.7m) from Defra, while local authorities are due to contribute at least another £3m (€3.8m) for start-up and running costs.

Dizzy

Councillor Paul Bettison, the LGA's environment spokesman, said: "This must be making him (Mr Brown) dizzy. It is the third U-turn he has carried out on these financial incentives. There is the smell of burning rubber everywhere.

"Millions of pounds have been set aside to pay for councils carrying out these pilots, and that will be wasted."

He added: "We're a long way down the process and U-turns always look like dithering. It is the action of someone who does not know what he is doing."

Mr Bettison said that, under EU rules, councils would be liable for millions of pounds in fines if they did not meet targets for reducing landfill.


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