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Gordon Brown on the ropes

The crisis facing Gordon Brown’s premiership reached new levels this evening, as his work and pensions suddenly resigned, and called for Brown to step down: James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, tonight dealt a monumental blow to Gordon Brown’s chances of holding onto office when he dramatically announced he was quitting the cabinet and ...

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The crisis facing Gordon Brown’s premiership reached new levels this evening, as his work and pensions suddenly resigned, and called for Brown to step down:

James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, tonight dealt a monumental blow to Gordon Brown’s chances of holding onto office when he dramatically announced he was quitting the cabinet and asking Brown “to stand aside to give Labour a fighting chance of winning the next election”.

His statement, effectively declaring Brown as unelectable, will further weaken the prime minister’s waning authority and takes the challenge to his leadership to a new dangerous level. Purnell made his sensational move after polls closed in the local and European elections, informing Brown by phone tonight.

The prime minister had no inkling that Purnell was going to quit, since the work and pensions secretary shrouded his move in secrecy in order to prevent Number 10 mounting a pre-emptive strike against him, or seeking to challenge his motives.

A spokesperson for Purnell said: “He feels Gordon should now stand aside to give the party a fighting chance of winning the next election. He is not  seeking the leadership nor acting with anyone else. This is not about jobs or careers.”

Brown, who has now lost three ministers in the last 24 hours, had been planning to announce a cabinet reshuffle on Monday, after what is sure to be a poor showing by Labour in today’s European elections. The “devastating” blow, though, may force Brown to move the announcement to tomorrow, as a stopgap against his swiftly collapsing authority. Purnell’s resignation is also likely to strengthen a Labour backbenchers’ campaign to force out the Prime Minister. Even if Brown can hold onto his own party, it is hard to disagree with Purnell’s accusation that “”[his] continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more not less likely.”

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

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