Brown brushes off drubbing in Glasgow

GORDON Brown today did what all previous prime ministers after losing by-elections and shrugged off Labour's crushing defeat in Glasgow East to the Scottish National Party.

Graham Dines

GORDON Brown today did what all previous prime ministers after losing by-elections and shrugged off Labour's crushing defeat in Glasgow East to the Scottish National Party.

A swing of 22% gave the SNP victory is a working class constituency which has been a Labour stronghold for decades.

During a visit to the West Midlands ahead of tomorrow's meeting with US presidential hopeful Barack Obama before his family holiday in Suffolk, the Prime Minister insisted that he was simply “getting on with the job. My full focus is on taking people through these difficult times.”

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Labour MPs are publicly supporting Mr Brown. Chris Mole, whose Ipswich seat would fall to the Conservatives on a swing of 6.37% admitted that no-one in the party could shy away from the fact that it was bad result for Labour.

“The outcome was a reflection by the voters on the economic downturn,” said Mr Mole. “Governments throughout the world are struggling with their popularity because of rising fuel and food prices.

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Mr Mole, who two years ago signed a “Dear Tony” letter urging Mr Blair to step aside for the good of the party, added: “Although the Glasgow East result was terrible, I don't think there is any appetite among Labour MPs for a destructive leadership challenge against the Prime Minister.”

Des Browne , who holds the twin positions as Scottish Secretary and Defence Secretary, said the people of Glasgow East “sent us a clear message. We will examine what that message means and we will respond to it.”

Rising prices and higher power bills were caused by international circumstances but voters wanted solutions now, Mr Browne said. “We won't lose our nerve either in the face of unprecedented economic turbulence or indeed the verdict of the people in a by-election - or indeed a number of by-elections,' he said.

“In Gordon Brown we have a leader of our party and our country who is uniquely well-placed to take us through these difficult economic times.”

Opposition parties wallowed in Labour's misery. Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said there were no safe Labour seats now in Scotland. He said voters in Glasgow East's had sent a message to Mr Brown - “'change your policy or change your job'.

Mr Salmond said: “What we need for the people of the country is a change of policy. We can't allow the country to drift into recession. We need action - action against the rising prices which are hitting family budgets, action against the energy costs, action to inject more demands into the economy.”

The by-election had been a “test of strength” between the Labour Government at Westminster and his Holyrood administration. “It was London Labour that was found wanting and the SNP in Scotland that emerged victorious.”

Tory leader David Cameron urged the Prime Minister to call a general election in the wake of Labour's disastrous by-election defeat in Scotland. “I think the Prime Minister should have his holiday but then I think we need an election.

“I think we need change in this country, and that's how change should come about”

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley called on Gordon Brown to put the country out of its misery and call an election.

“Brown is breaking all unpopularity records. He can't even win a by-election in a constituency classed as rock-solid for Labour,” said Mr Ruffley. “Labour assumed that Old Labour diehards would abstain to give the Government a fright - but they ended up voting SNP and the turnout was only slightly down from the General Election.

“Labour is phenomenally unpopular. This is a seat the Tories could never win, but we saved out deposit and pushed the Liberal Democrats into fourth place.”

Mr Ruffley cautioned the SNP against triumphally claiming its by-election victory was a vote for independence. “The SNP won because of Brown's unpopularity rather support for the break up of the United Kingdom.”

After his break, Mr Brown is likely to carry out a partial Cabinet reshuffle ahead of the Labour Party conference in Manchester. There's speculation that he'll recall Margaret Beckett, the former Foreign Secretary, who is seen as a good communicator and someone who can help bolster morale among activists.

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