LONDON – It would be a bitter fate for a former wunderkind who ceded the top job to the Tony Blair for a decade: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown could be forced out just short of two years into the job he has long coveted, felled by the toxic combination of a scandal over lawmakers’ expenses, an economy in decline and a resurgent Conservative opposition.
Experts believe it’s too early to say whether Brown, who only last fall was being lauded for his role in tackling the global financial crisis, can weather the storm. The results of Thursday’s European Parliament run-off — as well as local elections deciding 2,300 seats on town and city councils — may well determine his future.
Brown’s Labour Party, in power since 1997, has borne the brunt of public outrage over a scandal involving lawmakers’ expenses that has rumbled for weeks. In particular, it has been battered by the resignations of four government ministers, resulting in polls suggesting that support for the left-center party is at the lowest level since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party virtually exiled Labour into the political wilderness.
The plot thickened Thursday amid reports of looming "cyber coup" after an anonymous e-mail apparently being circulated among rebel Labour members of parliament claimed Brown can "best serve the country" by stepping down.
The Daily Express tabloid suggested Brown was "on the brink of being overthrown in an unprecedented Labour uprising" while the Daily Mail’s coverage of the resignations featured the headline: "Rats desert sinking ship."
Even the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, which usually supports Labour, turned on Brown. An editorial claimed the prime minister had "no vision… no plan, no argument for the future and no support" and urged MPs to "cut him loose."
If the party is wiped off the political map in Thursday’s elections, support for the secret e-mail campaign is likely to grow — potentially triggering a Cabinet revolt.
"In parliamentary politics, the crucial thing is to retain the confidence of your Cabinet," Curtice said.
"If you get 70 or 80 Labour MPs publicly asking him to go, Cabinet members will be forced to have conversations with each other," he said.
Brown’s U.K. government teeters near collapse – Europe- msnbc.com
Brown’s U.K. government teeters near collapseExpenses scandal leads to Cabinet resignations; today’s elections are key