Brown brushes off leadership challenge after shock poll defeat

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown brushed off the threat of a leadership challenge today after the disastrous defeat of Labour in the Glasgow East by-election.

The Prime Minister insisted that he would simply "get on with the job" after seeing one of Labour's safest seats fall to the Scottish National Party with a massive 22-per-cent swing.

"My full focus is on taking people through these difficult times," he said during a visit to the West Midlands.

"I know that people look to the Government to take the action that is necessary," he said. "We are looking at everything we can so that, in what is a global problem, we can in Britain help people through these difficult times.".

The Prime Minister brushed aside a call by Tory leader David Cameron for him to go to the country and call a general election.

"I think my task is to get on with the job of taking us through these difficult economic times," he said.

Speaking outside his home in west London, Mr Cameron said: "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."

Mr Cameron said he was pleased the Conservative candidate went from fourth place to third place and "maintained" the party's share of the vote.

"But what I wonder is whether we can put up with this for another 18 months," he said. "I think whenever people have had a chance to speak about this Government, whether at the local elections, whether in Crewe, whether in Henley, whether in the London mayor elections and now in Glasgow, they have said 'Look, we think you're failing and we want change'.

"I think it's the Conservative Party over the last few months that's really been setting the agenda on things like how we combat knife crime, how we deal with the cost of living, how we clean up politics."

Mr Brown can expect some political breathing space with MPs dispersed for the long summer recess.

However, the focus will now shift to the party's annual conference in Manchester at the end of September where MPs and activists will assess the fallout from Mr Brown's string of electoral disasters.

Senior Cabinet minister Des Browne admitted the result was "a bad night" for Labour, but he defended Mr Brown. The Defence Secretary and Scottish Secretary said: "Clearly, this has been a bad night for us and we will take it seriously."

Mr Browne told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland that Labour candidate Margaret Curran had paid the price for a national mood on economic circumstances.

"Time and time again, people raised the issue of rising food and fuel prices," he said.

Attacking the SNP, Mr Browne said: "Fundamentally, we are entitled to ask others who say they are producing an alternative, what are their policies? And they are conspicuous by their absence."

Defending the Prime Minister, he said: "Gordon Brown, in my view and the view of the party, is outstandingly the best politician in the country. He is a man of known strengths - the country knows his strengths."

Asked if he expected to be a likely casualty in a Cabinet reshuffle, Mr Browne said: "I have moved a number of times in government."

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon denied the victory was solely down to an anti-Labour vote. She said on the Good Morning Scotland programme: "There is no doubt that Gordon Brown and Labour are deeply, deeply unpopular.

"There's frustration on the streets of Glasgow East with a Government that is sitting with its fingers in its ears as people are struggling right now."

Ms Sturgeon said the by-election was the first in UK history fought between two governments - Westminster and Holyrood.

She said: "Yes, it was a vote against Gordon Brown, it was a catastrophe for Gordon Brown, but it was also a positive vote for the SNP and our government in Holyrood."

Nigel Griffiths, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said that Margaret Curran could have won had Labour had its candidate in place earlier and that tactical voting was a key factor.

"I found myself on the doorstep ... people reluctant to look me in the eye - saying they were not voting Labour", he said. "They were quite clearly Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters who were voting for the Scottish Nationalists."

However, there were clear signs of rumblings of discontent on the Labour backbenches. The Manchester Blackley MP Graham Stringer said that it was now up to members of the Cabinet to tell Mr Brown that the Government could not carry on as it is. If necessary, he said, Cabinet ministers should be prepared to force the issue by standing against the Prime Minister in a leadership contest.