British election is a race again as economy boosts Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown's government cut deficit forecasts today, which could give him a boost. While he was trailing badly, recent polls show a public nearly equally divided between Labour and Tory ahead of the British election.
After months of being regarded as a virtual shoo-in, British Conservative leader David Cameron suddenly has a fight on his hands to secure the keys to 10 Downing Street come election day – widely expected to take place on May 6. He came out swinging hard this week, calling Labour leaders "appalling people" and demanding heightened ethics rules.Skip to next paragraph
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A string of polls revealing a narrowing in Britain's general election race has suggested that, even after 13 years of an increasingly unpopular Labour government, crucial numbers of voters are still reluctant to swap the devil they know while a precarious economic recovery continues.
Although recent figures suggested that the Labour fight-back may be stalling, the public reaction to the new British budget released today and to Britain's first US-style televised debates in April will be decisive. In releasing the new budget, which cut the deficit forecast, treasury chief Alistair Darling aimed to spin Mr. Brown's government as a prudent financial steward that prevented a depression and can secure the country's economic recovery. But Brown still lags in polls.
Economy breathes life into Labour Party
How has Britain's battered and bruised prime minister, Gordon Brown, managed to come within a fighting chance of clinging to power? It's about the economy, stupid.
"The turning point was the publication at the end of January of final- quarter economic figures for 2009 which showed .01 percent growth," says Andrew Hawkins of polling firm Comres. The end of Britain's economic contraction "seemed to mark that point between Conservative leads averaging in double figures ... and the period after where the average shrunk to 6 percent."
Despite the wafer-thin nature of economic growth, Labour has argued that its stimulus package has worked while playing on fears that budget cuts by a new Tory government would jeopardize recovery. A poll by YouGov published March 18 in The Sun showed the Tory lead was still intact but remained fragile. It had Tory support at 36 percent, with Labour at 32 percent.
Economic issues still tend to overshadow other controversies – ranging from allegations that Mr. Brown bullies his staff to admissions by the Conservatives' wealthy chairman that he does not pay British taxes on foreign earnings. The Tories have also been learning the pitfalls of basing an election campaign around their charismatic leader.
David Cameron, at least, is an asset
A poster in which the party promised to "cut the deficit, not the NHS [National Health Service]" was overly defensive, according to Mr. Hawkins. "It bombed. More importantly, it featured David Cameron, who has limited appeal outside of London and England's southeast."
At least Mr. Cameron remains an asset to his party. Brown's deep unpopularity is continuing to harm Labour. A poll March 14 for the Guardian found that only 38 percent of people who voted Labour in 2005 – when Tony Blair was still leader – want to see the party win a strong majority now. Come the election, the Conservatives need to capture about 135 extra seats in the House of Commons from Labour and other parties to win a majority. Labour currently holds 346 of the Commons' 646 seats – 57 more seats than all the other parties combined. The Tories have 193 and the Liberal Democrats, 63.
The increasingly unpopular Labour Party has been in power for 13 years. Recent modest signs of recovery in the British economy, however, may be enough to hold off the efforts of the Conservative Party to unseat Gordon Brown.