Support for Labour slips after failed revolt

LONDON Fri Jan 8, 2010 3:51pm GMT

Prime Minister Gordon Brown adjusts his tie ahead of a news conference in central London January 8, 2010. REUTERS/Leon Neal/Pool

Prime Minister Gordon Brown adjusts his tie ahead of a news conference in central London January 8, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Leon Neal/Pool

LONDON (Reuters) - A failed attempt to oust Gordon Brown has damaged the prime minister and his Labour Party and boosted the Conservatives ahead of an election due by June, according to an opinion poll on Friday.

The poll, in the Sun, said 67 percent of voters either had no confidence in the Labour Party or less confidence following Wednesday's unsuccessful putsch.

Two former cabinet ministers called for a secret ballot of Labour MPs to decide if Brown, who replaced Tony Blair mid-term in 2007, should lead the party into an election.

While the call failed to win any high-level support, analysts and media commentators said Brown would be weakened by the episode and noted that many of his senior colleagues took some time to declare their backing for him.

Brown dismissed it as a "storm in a teacup."

"This was the worst possible timing for the Labour Party," said Simon Lee, senior politics lecturer at Hull University.

Conservative leader David Cameron described Labour, in power for 13 years, as divided and damaged.

The party's support has been eroded by the debilitating effects of a deep recession and high unemployment and an increasingly bloody war in Afghanistan.

CABINET MEETS, WEATHER DISCUSSED

The cabinet met on Friday for the first time since the plot was announced and spent much of its time discussing the response to Britain's worst winter in three decades.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, one of the most influential figures in the cabinet, said Labour must stick to the centrist message that had helped it to three successive electoral victories.

"We are going to offer policies that benefit people in every part of the United Kingdom," he told the BBC. "That's what we've always done when we've won and that's what we're going to do again. The prime minister is leading us in that."

Critics say Brown, 58, lacks charisma and could compare unfavourably with the younger Cameron, a former public relations executive, in election campaigning in which live TV debates will be held for the first time.

The YouGov poll, which was taken between 4 p.m. on Wednesday and 12 p.m. on Thursday, showed the Conservatives with 42 percent support. This was up from 40 percent in a poll the newspaper published just a day earlier.

Labour slipped to 30 percent from 31 percent in the previous poll and the Liberal Democrats dropped to 16 percent from 17 percent. Such a voting pattern in an election would give the Conservatives a 74-seat majority, the newspaper said.

A ComRes poll for the BBC on Friday also found that 50 percent of those questioned thought Labour would have greater appeal if Brown were to step aside. However, 69 percent thought that if he quit there was no obvious more popular candidate.

The poll findings helped to ease some of the pressure on sterling. Markets are concerned that the election could produce a weak government or a hung parliament, complicating efforts to cut a record budget deficit.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Matthew Jones)

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