Labour faces disaster as voting looms

THE LABOUR party&rsquo;s European election hopes suffered another blow yesterday, as an opinion poll showed it lagging behind both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats for the first time in 22 years.<br /><br />According to the ICM poll, Prime Minister Gordon Brown&rsquo;s party is set to suffer a significant defeat in the European elections on Thursday &ndash; with only 17 per cent of those polled backing Labour, versus the Tories on 29 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent. <br /><br />In a further sign of voters&rsquo; dwindling support for the government, 54 per cent wanted Brown to call a general election by the end of the year, with most backing Cameron&rsquo;s call for an immediate national poll.<br /><br />The poll results suggest that the reputation of the Labour party has been hard hit by the scandal about MPs&rsquo; expenses claims, and will heighten speculation over Brown&rsquo;s position as party leader.<br /><br />The prime minister is expected to reshuffle key ministerial posts on Friday in an attempt to reassert his authority and rekindle the voting public&rsquo;s faith in his party. And yesterday there was speculation that he is lining up close friend and ally, school secretary Ed Balls, to replace Alistair Darling as chancellor.<br /><br />Darling was once again under fire last night, amid reports that he claimed expenses for a flat that he let to tenants while also claiming living allowances for his grace and favour home in Downing Street.<br /><br />But the promotion of Balls, a highly divisive party member, would be a gamble on the part of Brown and could cause a backlash from within the party. <br /><br />Health secretary Alan Johnson, the man considered Brown&rsquo;s likeliest successor, last week called for Brown to offer a &ldquo;genuine radical alternative&rdquo;, proposing a referendum on proportional representation should be held along with a general election.