What a difference a year makes! Gordon Brown had waited so long to take his place in 10 Downing Street. Yet, less than 12 months after becoming Britain’s Prime Minister, his dream looks to have turned into a nightmare. How else could you describe his ruling Labour Party’s worst local election results in 40 years. This month it was thrashed by the opposition Conservatives who, if they repeat their performance in the next national poll, would win it by a landslide. Brown blamed Labour’s dismal score on the weakening economy and voters’ concerns over the cost of living.
“We had a bad night on Thursday, very, very difficult,” he said, speaking after the election rout. “We made some mistakes and I have been freely admitting that we have made some mistakes. But, you know, what is worrying people most of all, as I have found when I was going round the country, is what is happening to their everyday lives.”
After years of growth, Britain’s economy is not only being hit hard by rising food and energy prices. There is also the “credit crunch” leading to problems with mortgage repayments.
The housing charity Shelter paints a bleak picture of the months ahead.
“We are expecting to see 45,000 maybe 60,000 households losing their homes this year,” said its Chief Executive Adam Sampson.
“And we at Shelter pick up the pieces when we see people being literally thrown out onto the streets with nowhere to go.”
The past is also catching up with Labour. Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling has just unveiled surprise tax cuts, trying to defuse a row over earlier tax changes that left millions of poorer households worse off. Those original, ill-fated measures had been announced by Gordon Brown when he was finance minister, last year.
The Conservatives have had a field day in parliament where Shadow Chancellor George Osborne denounced the measure.
“This is a one-off change only, for this year only,” he said.
“He serves up a compensation con after a tax con and expects people to believe it. What utter cynicism. What total incompetence. And what a complete humiliation for this Chancellor of the Exchequer!”
After well-documented difficulties in their relationship, one can only wonder what Brown’s predecessor makes of it all. Certainly, a book by Tony Blair’s wife Cherie has not helped matters for the embattled premier. She accuses him of rattling Downing Street’s keys over her husband’s head to try to make Blair step down.