LONDON – Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced a political nightmare Wednesday with the resignation of his fourth government minister in two days on the eve of local and European elections in which his Labor Party appeared headed for perhaps its worst defeat in history.
Political analysts said Brown’s predicament is so severe that he could possibly be forced out, after months of anemic popularity ratings and more recently a parliamentary expense-abuse scandal that has reached the highest levels of his Cabinet.
“We’re in an unpredictable, muddled, confused world, and no one knows what will happen in the next 48 hours,” said political columnist Peter Riddell.
Brown has rejected suggestions that he might quit, and most analysts agreed that he would be viscerally opposed to stepping aside after waiting nearly a decade to take over from former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Brown’s popularity among British voters has been steadily declining for months because of a widespread perception of disarray and lack of decisive direction in his government. Britain’s rising unemployment and other severe economic woes have added to Brown’s problems.
Public anger and disillusionment with Brown reached new peaks with the expenses scandal.
Although expense offenders have come from all parties, Brown’s handling of the crisis has been widely criticized as slow and tepid.
Brown “has never gotten over the label that he is a ditherer, that he doesn’t take action quickly enough,” said Nicola McEwen, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Edinburgh.
The situation became more chaotic Wednesday when a longtime Brown ally and Cabinet member, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, resigned unexpectedly. Her departure followed announcements on Tuesday that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and two lower-ranking Cabinet ministers planned to step down.
All had been caught up in the expenses scandal.