Britain’s embattled Prime Minister Gordon Brown made what observers called a last-ditch effort Tuesday to shore up support ahead of elections next May. Sooner after his speech, however, a high-profile supporter had dumped Mr. Brown and his Labour Party and called for new leadership.
Pummeled by the global recession and holding out for change, many voters in England are looking instead to the center-right Conservative Party. Polls show the Conserative Party is well ahead of Labour, with 34 percent of votes versus 24 percent.
A win for the Conservative Party would be the first change of government in Britain since 1997.
Tuesday marked a crucial day for Brown, his last chance before May to address an annual conference of the Labour Party. With polls looking grim, Brown’s task was to make the conference a kickstart, not a eulogy, for the party.
To boost morale, Brown focused his remarks on the values and struggles of the middle class, making an impassioned pledge to fight the election on their behalf. He also introduced a string of reform-minded policies, including “ten hours of free childcare a week for 250,000 two-year-olds from families "on modest or middle incomes", and “a [$2 billion] "innovation fund" to boost industry,” reports the BBC.
Brown and his party are fighting to stay alive because a string of political scandals, coupled with the global recession, have pummeled their popularity ratings. The war in Afghanistan, which Brown and his Labour predecessor Tony Blair both championed, has also lost popularity and dented ratings. Brown is trapped between “corrupt ministers and angry soldiers,” wrote Benedict Brogan, chief political commentator at the Telegraph.
Reviews of the speech, televised live from the seaside resort of Brighton, were decidedly mixed.
The Wall Street Journal called the speech a “boost” for Brown and said it “rallied Labour's worried ranks and seemed to bring around some of his doubters. The Telegraph said it was “well received and appeared to have quashed speculation that he could be ousted as party leader before the election."
But analysts were dubious whether Brown's speech in the English seaside resort of Brighton could win back sceptical voters who are looking to the opposition centre-right Conservative Party to bring change.
Shortly after the speech, Britain’s top-selling daily newspaper, the Sun, dropped its endorsement of Brown and the Labour Party, with a headline reading “Labour’s lost it.” The move measured as a stinging blow, since the Sun had backed Labour in 1997, 2001, and 2005, reports the BBC.
Brown, insisted, however, that Labour did not need the Sun’s backing to win, reports the Guardian.
"It's the British people that decide elections. It's the British people that I'm interested in and it's the British people that I was talking about yesterday," [Brown] said.