LONDON - Labour members of parliament (MPs) cheered British Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he arrived to address them on Monday for a meeting that will help to decide his political future.
Brown met the 350 Labour MPs in the hope of quelling dissent following calls for him to stand down in the wake of Sunday's heavy defeat in a European election in which Labour took its smallest share of a national vote since 1910.
The prime minister, in power since 2007 when he took over from Tony Blair in mid-term, is hoping to convince MPs that he remains the best person to lead the party into the next election, which must be held by June 2010.
As he began Monday's meeting, Labour members cheered and applauded loudly, with some banging tables and chairs, witnesses said. Brown entered the room with a broad, confident grin.
The meeting follows a make-or-break week for Brown in which he has faced down a revolt, including the resignation of six senior ministers, and had to reshuffle his cabinet.
The collapse in the Labour vote in the European Parliament election, which followed a dismal showing in local government elections last week, helped the far-right British National Party win its first two seats in the European Parliament.
Labour won 15.7 percent of the European vote, behind the anti-EU UK Independence Party on 16.5 percent and the Conservatives on 27.7. Labour's vote was about seven points down from the 2004 European election.
A ComRes opinion poll suggested 62 percent of voters want an election as soon as possible. The poll also indicated a change of leader was unlikely to improve Labour's chances of success.
Polls predict a big win for the opposition Conservatives at a time when Britain is mired in recession and voters are angry over MPs' expense claims.
We need to give the Labour party a fighting chance of winning back the support of the people, Jane Kennedy, the latest junior minister to desert Brown, told Sky News.
Part of my disquiet is that Gordon is not able to do that.
Six senior ministers resigned last week and several junior ministers have followed suit, including a woman minister who accused Brown of treating her as window dressing and running a bullying administration. Brown reshuffled his cabinet in an effort to reassert his authority.
Investors have been unsettled by the prospect of a leadership battle at a time of economic turmoil and soaring government borrowing. The uncertainty has weakened the pound.
Markets are also concerned any future government may not command a strong majority after the opposition Conservatives failed to gain significantly in the European election. All the main parties have been severely tainted by the expenses scandal.
Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman conceded the European election results were a very, very bad defeat for Labour but said Brown, 58, was resilient and would fight on.
Opposition center-right Conservative leader David Cameron challenged the prime minister to call an election.
It would give the country a fresh start where we so badly need one, with an economy that is in difficulty, with a political system that is in a mess and with a government that is so weak it is just extraordinary, he said.
While speculation of a revolt within Labour has dominated headlines for days, organizing a challenge is complex and requires significant support. No candidates have yet emerged and there are growing signs that the insurrection may peter out.
If Brown were to go, it could precipitate an early general election, which the Conservatives are expected to win.
Yet Labour has rebounded before. A year after crashing in local and European elections in 2004, Labour won a historic third consecutive term in government -- suggesting that the party Tony Blair brought to power on a wave of popular support in 1997 may have more staying power than some opponents believe.
Brown and his leadership circle believe their best chance of winning an election rests on a strong economic turnaround.
There have been some signs that Britain may be starting to emerge from recession faster than forecast, but Bank of England policymakers have warned that the recovery may be slow.
(Additional reporting by Keith Weir, Adrian Croft and Kate Kelland, Luke Baker; Editing by Diana Abdallah)