Seth Wenig/AP
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Brown Speech Buoys Labour Party Popularity in England

September 25, 2008 04:55 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
As England’s leader struggles to guide his country through troubling economic times, a powerful speech boosts his party’s popularity and his own.

Questions About Prime Minister Gordon Brown

People have doubted Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ability to lead Britain at a time when inflation and unemployment are rising, consumer confidence is waning, and the Bank of England is warning that Britain’s economy could move into a recession. Although Brown has asked colleagues to support him, “When people start to feel the direct of a recession they blame the government of the day,” Robin Shepherd, senior research fellow at Chatham House, said in a Forbes article.

A speech Brown gave at the Labour conference in Manchester, England, boosted voter support for himself and his Labour party. Following his address, a YouGov survey found that the number of voters who want Brown to remain as prime minister increased from 29 percent to 39 percent. Support for the Tories slipped from 44 percent to 41 percent, while the Labour Party moved up from 24 percent to 31 percent.

The poll, however, was conducted before news broke that Ruth Kelly was leaving her position as Transport Secretary. A rumor was circulating that a number of Kelly’s colleagues had planned to resign as a group when she left her post, but she made her decision early and “denied them that opportunity,” The Times of London explained. Because the news of Kelly’s departure was leaked early, Brown’s allies said his critics had tried to “rain on his parade” because his speech had gone so well.

Why is Brown struggling?

In August 2008, a survey published by The Daily Telegraph showed Brown’s popularity at a record low. Most participants in the poll felt that Brown just wasn’t a good fit for the role of prime minister. A few voters believed he was "out of touch” with the public, but even more said he “lacks the qualities needed” to be prime minister.

Tony Blair’s alliance with President Bush on the Iraq War contributed to the former prime minister’s failing popularity. Brown, Blair’s closest ally, has inherited that part of Blair’s legacy, and arguably much more.

On Sept. 18, Reuters wrote that a poll of 788 Labour Party members and supporters wanted a new leader to take them into the next election, set for 2010. Several respondents also said they wanted a vote on whether to initiate a leadership contest at the Labour conference and find a replacement for Brown.

A Challenger

Despite the challenges Brown continues to face, most people agree “that there is no stomach for a leadership challenge to Mr. Brown when world financial markets are in turmoil.” Foreign minister David Miliband has been widely viewed as a possible replacement before the next election. But if poll numbers continue to improve, the task will be to see whether the surge in popularity Brown and the Labour Party experienced after his Manchester address were “just a rogue result or the start of a new trend as the public warms to Mr. Brown’s handling of the financial crisis,” Reuters reported.

“Fear of the return of full-blown Blairism in the shape of Miliband has been crucial in maintaining support for Brown in recent months,” Seumas Milne wrote in an article for The Guardian. What will happen to Brown remains to be seen, Milne said, but “Labour began to change this week—and the fallout of that change is likely to be felt for years to come.”

Working With the United States on Economic Issues

Brown is meeting with Wall Street fund managers to discuss the protection of savings and pensions during “the current global economic crisis,” according to the BBC. He’s already met with other world leaders to talk about regulation and supervision of financial markets. The BBC noted that Brown supports President Bush’s bailout plan for the United States economy, and is encouraging increased transparency and supervision of the global financial system.

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