Brown dismisses coup plot but leadership left shaken
AN EMBATTLED Gordon Brown last night attempted to dismiss a plot against his leadership as "a storm in a teacup", insisting he had the full backing of his cabinet.
Although the attempt to oust the British prime minister appeared to have run out of steam after two ex-cabinet plotters failed to win public support from ministers, analysts insisted that Mr Brown's authority had been severely shaken.
Only months before an election, which the Labour Party is widely expected to lose, Wednesday's plot could not have come at a worse time for Mr Brown, especially as his poor opinion poll ratings have been showing signs of improvement.
Labour's popularity has been hit by a deep recession, an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan and a scandal over politicians' expenses.
Political analysts say the opposition Conservatives have failed to build up a big enough poll lead to guarantee a parliamentary majority in the election, expected to be held in early May.
Having seen off a second coup attempt in little over six months, Mr Brown's position now looks secure at least until the election, which is expected to end 13 years of Labour rule.
"It will have diminished his authority to the wider public, but within the Labour Party it may well strengthen his position in the run-up the election because the attack seems so ill-judged," said Justin Fisher, professor of political science at Britain's Brunel University.
Party officials said many Labour politicians were "fire and brimstone angry" over the call from former defence minister Geoff Hoon and former health minister Patricia Hewitt for a secret ballot on Brown's future, fearing it might undermine the party's pre-election campaign. "This move has misjudged the mood here," one aide to Brown told Reuters.
However, jitters over the strength of Brown's leadership put pressure on sterling for a second day, with markets already on alert over Britain's fragile economy and sizeable budget deficit, set to top 12pc of gross domestic product this year.
"An additional bout of political uncertainty is hardly well timed," said Jonathan Loynes, an economist at Capital Economics.
Mr Brown told a local radio phone-in programme he was unfazed by the plot and getting on with his job. "This is a bit of a storm in a tea cup," he said. "We are actually dealing with real storms at the moment."
A senior minister, linked to Wednesday's plot by some British media, dismissed any suggestion that there had been any cabinet involvement.
"We're all determined to win the election under Gordon's leadership for the good of the country," foreign minister David Miliband, often mentioned as a contender in any leadership challenge, told Sky News.
Mr Hoon admitted late on Wednesday that the plot had failed. Ousting a Labour leader is a long and complex process under the party rules, making a successful coup difficult.
A poll in 'The Sun' newspaper suggested removing Brown would not change voting intentions, putting Labour nine points behind the Conservatives. "We cannot go on like this, we've got to have an election and a change of government," said Conservative leader David Cameron.