Straw says ousting PM would solve nothing

LONDON (Reuters) - Labour faces a difficult test in local and European elections next week but replacing Prime Minister Gordon Brown as leader would solve nothing, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said on Wednesday.

Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in central London July 15, 2008. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

A scandal over politicians’ expense claims has hit all the major parties but opinion polls suggest Labour, after 12 years in power, could suffer most in the June 4 poll.

Opinion polls put support for Labour in the low 20s, up to 20 points behind the Conservatives.

Brown’s popularity was already sliding as Britain’s worst recession since World War Two tightened its grip, depressing house prices and throwing hundreds of thousands out of work.

Some commentators say a very weak showing for Labour on June 4 could lead Labour members to try to oust Brown before a parliamentary election due within a year.

“We’ve never made any secret of the fact -- the expenses issue aside -- that these Euro elections are difficult elections and so ... are the county council (local) elections,” Jack Straw told a news conference.

But installing a new leader would be “the solution to nothing,” Straw said.

“The prime minister is not going to be ousted ... The prime minister is secure in his job,” said the Labour veteran, who said he was not a candidate to lead the party.

He said Labour had done badly in the last local and European elections in 2004, when it won only about a quarter of the vote, but still won the 2005 parliamentary election.

Disclosures that MPs have claimed on their expenses for everything from manure to porn films have triggered public outrage and opposition calls for an early election.

The controversy led MPs to oust parliament’s speaker for the first time in 300 years. Several MPs, Labour and Conservative, have said they will not stand for re-election.

Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union, a Labour donor, told the BBC on Wednesday he believed “well in excess of 100” legislators would have to step down before the next election.

Pollsters say voters could show their anger with the main parties by staying away from the polls on June 4 or by supporting small parties such as the Greens, the UK Independence Party or the British National Party.

The expenses scandal has led all the major parties to make proposals for far-reaching reform of the political system.

Brown, writing in the Independent on Wednesday, said the government would publish proposals to reform the Commons.

He suggested his plans could include “recall” elections which allow voters to remove politicians if they are unhappy with their performance.

Conservative leader David Cameron has proposed introducing fixed parliamentary terms and posting debates on YouTube.

Additional reporting by Kate Kelland