LONDON - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday survived the most serious test of his leadership, offering his critics a humbling promise to improve after his governing Labor Party suffered its worst electoral results in a century.
Brown made a rare admission of his failings in a speech to a private meeting of hundreds of Labor lawmakers from both houses of Parliament - a move that appeared to have halted a rebellion threatening his ouster.
Repeated cheers could be heard from the meeting. One cabinet minister said it was his best performance ever before his party's legislators.
"There was a massive show of unity," Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said. "He made the speech of his life."
Rebels need 71 of Labor's 350 lawmakers to offer backing to a challenger to trigger a leadership contest - a figure that appears out of their reach after only about six dissidents spoke against Brown at the meeting.
"I have my strengths and I have my weaknesses," Brown told the meeting, according to a text of his speech supplied by his office. "I know I need to improve. There are some things I can do well, some things I do not so well. I've learnt that you've got to keep learning all the time."
It leaves Brown almost certain to survive calls to quit, and means he will likely lead the party into a national election, which must be held by June 2010.
"I think the plot is dead and buried," Labor lawmaker Geraldine Smith said.
Brown had faced loud calls to quit from a group of dissident Labor lawmakers after more than a dozen resignations from his government over the last week and poor results in elections to local councils and the European Parliament.
His Labor Party finished third in Britain in voting for representatives to the European Parliament. The results, announced Sunday, were Labor's worst in a nationwide vote since 1910 - showing the damage wreaked by a scandal over lawmakers' excessive expense claims.
Results in local elections showed Brown's party wiped out in parts of southern and central England, regions key to former Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair's three successive national election victories.
By law, Brown must call a national election by June 2010, ending Labor's five-year term won in 2005. Britain's Conservatives are seen as virtually assured of returning to power for the first time since 1997.
A projection for the Sunday Times newspaper based on local election results suggested the Conservatives would win power with a majority of 34. Labor, which has a 63-seat majority, would lose about 140 seats - 40 percent of its total of 350 - according to the analysis.
Olympics minister Tessa Jowell said Brown planned to call an election in May 2010.
At least two legislators called on Brown directly to quit during the 90-minute meeting yesterday but won little backing from colleagues, lawmakers said. In a separate meeting at Parliament, former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers said Brown was too timid to lead Labor's recovery from the election defeats.
"We need a leader who can win for Labor at the next general election and not take us to a humiliating defeat," Byers said. "Gordon Brown is not that leader."
Tom Harris, a junior transport minister, and Jane Kennedy, a junior environment minister, both quit their government jobs yesterday in protest at Brown's leadership.
Changing leaders - and thus prime ministers - would increase pressure to call an immediate national election, chiefly because the new leader would be Britain's second consecutive unelected prime minister. Brown himself was selected by the party to replace Blair in 2007.
Apathy, anger, and economic uncertainty translated into gains for extreme-right parties in European parliamentary elections, including
the first seats won by
the all-white British National Party.
Analysts said advances by the far right were driven in part by voters' desire to punish mainstream parties for the recession, and by concerns about growing immigration within the bloc of 27 countries.
Voters deserted left-wing parties in droves. Center- right parties were the biggest winners in races for the 736-seat EU legislature. Conservative nationalists also gained.
- Associated Press