Under fire Brown revamps cabinet

BRITISH Prime Minister Gordon Brown clung fiercely to his job last night, defying calls from some within his beleaguered Labour party to resign.

In the wake of catastrophic local election results and the resignations yesterday of two more cabinet ministers – Geoff Hoon and John Hutton – Brown told reporters he never even considered resigning. Instead he announced a reshuffle that he hopes will help restore his fortunes.

“I have the determination to take this country through the most difficult of economic times, and this is what I am doing,” he said. “I will get on with the job and I will finish the work.”

Brown, who some legislators view as the key obstacle to the party’s hopes of avoiding defeat in the next national election, promoted key allies to his inner circle in a bid to block efforts to oust him from his post.

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell, a 39-year-old fast-rising star in Brown’s government, dramatically quit late on Thursday and urged Brown to step aside.

Yesterday Geoff Hoon quit as transport secretary and defence secretary John Hutton, who was regarded as one of the cabinet’s best performers, also announced that he was standing down – the 11th surprise resignation in four days. But Hutton offered Brown his support – mitigating the impact of his departure.

As Brown was selecting his new team, Caroline Flint quit as Europe minister, accusing the prime minister of using women ministers as “female window dressing”.

In a furious resignation letter, Flint accused Brown of operating a “two-tier government”.

She said the under-fire PM had “strained every sinew” of her loyalty to the government.

Her comments came less than 24 hours after she took to the airwaves to declare her loyalty to Brown amid speculation that she was preparing to resign.

“I am extremely disappointed at your failure to have an inclusive government. You have a two-tier government – your inner circle and then the remainder of cabinet,” she said.

“I have the greatest respect for the women who have served as full members of cabinet and for those who attend as and when required.

“However, few are allowed into your inner circle.

“Several of the women attending cabinet – myself included – have been treated by you as little more than female window dressing. I am not willing to attend cabinet in a peripheral capacity any longer.”

Brown was at pains to emphasise that he was still in control – while defending himself against charges that he was ignoring the will of his party. “I’m not arrogant, and I’m never complacent,” he said.

Brown also promised to introduce an independent regulatory body to oversee lawmakers’ expense claims, whose publication has deeply embarrassed parliamentarians and badly eroded support for Labour.

Meanwhile, results of British local elections showed a new collapse for support in the party which has held power since 1997. The Conservatives won key town and city council seats from Labour, who no longer control any county councils in England and lost more than 300 seats.

Meanwhile, Alan Johnson, the affable health secretary – who is often mentioned as a replacement for Brown – urged colleagues to unite behind the prime minister despite the results. Johnson was appointed home secretary yesterday.

Treasury chief Alistair Darling remained in place, despite concern over his expenses claims.

Darling has repaid some money after he acknowledged mistakes in his claims and has faced criticism over his manipulation of the housing allowance system.

Alan Sugar, host of the British version of The Apprentice TV show, will be made a lord and will have a roving role to promote entrepreneurship and help stimulate Britain’s struggling economy.

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