Brown to keep Darling

The British prime minister Gordon Brown backs down from replacing his finance minister, Alistair Darling.

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LONDON // The British prime minister Gordon Brown backed down from replacing his finance minister on Friday in a bid to hold his government together and end a political crisis. The move came after the resignation of more senior ministers, making four in as many days, and local election results that pointed to expected big losses for Labour but no clear swing to the opposition Conservatives. Media reports said Mr Brown had given up on a plan to replace Alistair Darling with his close ally Ed Balls after Mr Darling refused to move. Mr Darling has won praise for his efforts to pull Britain out of its deepest recession since the Second World War. A gathering rebellion against Mr Brown has increased the possibility of a snap election in the autumn rather than the widely expected date of May. Some Labour deputies have been gathering signatures to unseat Mr Brown. The defence secretary John Hutton and the work and pensions secretary James Purnell, who was seen by some as a potential leader of the party, became the latest cabinet ministers to quit. Mr Hutton said he was still committed to supporting Mr Brown and would quit parliament at the next election, although Mr Purnell made his aim abundantly clear. "I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely," he told Mr Brown in a letter published in newspapers. "I am therefore calling on you to stand aside to give our party a fighting chance of winning." Today's cabinet reshuffle, the second in eight months, may be Mr Brown's last chance to rally his party around him. His departure after only two years would add to pressure on Labour to bring forward a general election that does not have to be held until June next year. The opposition centre-right Conservatives are well ahead in the polls and would be the clear favorites to return to power for the first time since 1997. "The government is collapsing in front of our eyes," the Conservative leader David Cameron said on his website, pressing his call for an early election. *Reuters