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Europe

Gordon Brown Battles for Political Future After a Year in Power

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's year in office since taking over from Tony Blair has been calamitous. Few believe his Labour Party has a real chance of winning the next general election in 2010.

Gordon Brown, British prime minister

Brown's authority is in tatters one year after being in office

Gordon Brown's first anniversary as prime minister was marked by a humiliating loss on Friday, June 27, in a mid-term election for a vacant parliamentary seat in the affluent town of Henley-on-Thames near London.

Labour's candidate garnered just 3.1 percent of votes cast and took fifth place, behind the Greens and the far-right BNP. The conservative Tory candidate won the seat with an increased 57 percent share of votes cast.

The drubbing comes weeks after a narrow win by Brown on controversial measures allowing terror suspects to be held for 42 days without charge.

The vote, regarded as a test of Brown's flagging leadership, has been called a "humiliating victory" with the premier facing a rebellion in his own ranks and relying on nine Democratic Unionist MPs from Northern Ireland to win the vote in the House of Commons.

Rapid downfall

"Gordon Brown is like a brand that simply doesn't work anymore," said Nick Sparrow from the market research firm ICM. "There are politicians who survive tough times and recover. But in the face of the most recent opinion polls it's difficult to imagine how Brown can survive politically."

Few had counted on Brown, Blair's former finance minster, stumbling so badly and so rapidly since taking office. At the time, in June 2007, approval ratings for Labour were at 40 percent.

David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives

Most British voters perfer David Cameron to Brown

But they've been in free fall ever since Brown opted against calling a snap general election last October. Opinion polls show Labour struggling 20 percentage points behind the Conservatives, who would win a comfortable majority if a general election were held right now.

Some 49 percent say their opinion of Brown has worsened from a year ago while 46 percent believe the youthful looking David Cameron, the Tories' leader, would make the "best prime minister."

Until a year ago, Gordon Brown was widely respected for his expertise on the economy. He was considered competent, careful and thorough -- not a showman like Tony Blair.

But Brown has since suffered from growing malaise over an economic slowdown and fears of a housing market crash. The prime minister has been nicknamed "Gordon Clown" and is a favorite target on satirical TV shows.

A brief honeymoon

Things started off well for Brown -- he steered the country through bungled terrorist attacks in Glasgow and London, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and devastating floods last year. Brown later dubbed the period his "baptism of fire and water."

Brown's supporters predicted a snap autumn election and his party even began spending in preparation. But as his party fanned rumors of an early vote, Brown backed down just as his opinion poll ratings faltered.

"That was the turning point," said Francis Beckett, author of a biography of Brown. For weeks, Brown left the public in the dark about his intentions and finally, the snap polls didn't take place.

Brown denied the reason for it were bad approval ratings. But his rivals seized on the decision to portray him as a weak, fearful and indecisive premier.

Lines of anxious investors wait to withdraw their savings outside a branch of Northern Rock in London

Lines of anxious investors wait to withdraw their savings outside a branch of Northern Rock in London

Funding scandals and a string of government blunders further dented Brown's credibility. Almost immediately, the global credit crunch began to bite, plunging British mortgage lender Northern Rock to the brink of collapse and triggering the first run on a British bank since 1866. The affair further punctured confidence in the Brown government.

"It's all about the economy"

"Gordon Brown has lost touch with the population, worse, he betrayed the most needy," said Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, referring to another fiasco when Brown scrapped the lowest tax rate -- effectively raising income taxes on the country's poorest sections.

That decision sparked a rebellion in Labour's ranks, forcing Brown to retreat reverse the tax cut. The turmoil cost Labour dearly in local elections in May -- they came up with their worst result in four decades.

Skyrocketing food and oil prices have compounded Brown's woes.

But Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party said that though global disasters played a role in Brown's troubles, the British population was justifiably angry because the government was so unprepared as it hurtled into the current situation.

There are two years to go until the next general elections. And few doubt a new prime minister could revive the party's sagging fortunes.

"It's a truism -- but finally it's all about the economy," said Nick Sparrow. "And if the economy isn't working then you inevitably blame the government."

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