Gordon Brown was smiling and full of optimism as he entered Downing Street a year ago, but he is certainly feeling the heat now. After waiting ten long years to become Britain’s prime minister, his approval ratings have fallen through the floor.
Just three days into his premiership, Britain suffered terrorist attacks in London and at Glasgow Airport. Brown put the country on red alert, and his handling of the crisis would bolster his image as a leader, a calm, steady hand on the tiller.
“I know the British people will stand together, united, resolute and strong,” he told the country.
His early weeks in power allowed Brown to appear resolute and strong. A visit to British troops in Iraq was the ideal image of a man in control. By August, Labour enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls, but the honeymoon was to be brief.
September saw the Northern Rock affair, as Britain’s fifth biggest mortgage lender hit the rocks. Panic spread, investors pulled their money out and the bank was nationalised, evoking bad memories of Britain in the 1970s. The fallout damaged Brown’s reputation as guardian of the nation’s finances.
“The right decision is to hold Northern Rock in temporary public ownership, to be run at arm’s length from the government under professional management, until adverse market conditions change,” he said.
It meant unforeseen government borrowing of more than 30 billion euros of public money to calm the crisis, but Britain was already suffering from the global economic slowdown. Rising oil prices and a sluggish economy has pushed inflation to 3.3 percent, its highest since Labour took power in 1997.
It adds up to a nightmare for Brown. His government is haemorrhaging support. The results for this week’s ICM/Guardian survey are Labour’s worst since the poll began in 1984. His enemies scent blood. The opposition Conservatives are rejuvenated under David Cameron, and have surged ahead with a string of election victories, including for the Mayor of London.
Brown cuts an increasingly-defensive figure in parliament. But the next general election need not be until 2010, and if it is true that what goes up must come down, the reverse is probably so as well.