London: Support for Britain’s ruling Labour Party plunged to its lowest level in a century in European elections on Sunday, prompting fresh calls for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to step down.
Adding to Labour’s woes, the far-right British National Party won its first seat in the European Parliament.
The BNP gained the seat in the northern English region of Yorkshire and Humber at the expense of Brown’s Labour Party, which has been hurt by a scandal over politicians’ expenses and questions over Brown’s leadership at a time of deep recession.
Labour also lost a seat in Wales, a traditional stronghold, where it came second behind the centre-right Conservatives.
A projection for the BBC put Labour on 16% of the vote, just behind the anti-EU UK Independence Party and 11 points adrift of the Conservatives.
Labour’s share of the vote was down about seven points from the last European election in 2004, while the Conservatives were little changed. The performance gave fresh ammunition to Brown’s critics in the Labour Party after a traumatic week in which six senior ministers quit the government, one of whom called on Brown to quit and said he was an electoral liability.
“If Labour MPs and Gordon Brown don’t get the message from these results we are finished,” said left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, noting that Labour’s share of the vote was its lowest in a nationwide election since 1910.
Former Labour minister Charles Falconer also called for a change at the top to improve Labour’s prospects in a general election due within a year.
Rebels among Labour members of parliament (MPs) are said to be canvassing support for a letter calling on Brown to go.
The Conservatives have a commanding lead over Labour in opinion polls and are on course to return to power for the first time since 1997. However, commentators said their share of the vote was not as strong as they might have expected.
Postal sell-off delayed
Critics say Labour lacks a coherent policy agenda and that Brown is indecisive and a poor communicator, adding he appears to be unable to transfer his confidence on the world economic stage to domestic politics.
Labour members of parliament are due to meet on Monday when rebels could go public with their criticisms of the leader.
A change of Labour leader would raise the prospect of a snap election. Brown has not faced the electorate since he took over as prime minister from Tony Blair two years ago.
Last week, sterling was hit by speculation over Brown’s future, and if he manages to survive the current crisis, it looks likely he will wait for as long as possible before calling the next election.
British newspapers reported on Monday that Brown would delay the planned privatisation of postal group Royal Mail, on price grounds, and announce an Iraq war inquiry within days.
A delay on Royal Mail would help curb Labour internal divisions after 140 MPs signed a motion opposing the deal.
Brown, who reshuffled his government team on Friday after the resignations, told supporters on Sunday he would not walk away from the country’s troubles.
Political commentators said fringe and protest parties had gained from anger with the mainstream parties after disclosures that MPs had charged the taxpayer for everything from dog food to the cost of cleaning a moat.