OPINION

Whither Brown bounce?

Despite a wave of headline-grabbing measures the British government has taken in recent months, the economic crisis is worsening by the day. For the first time since 1991, Britain is officially in recession and Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has warned that the worst is yet to come. Is it any wonder then that the public appears to be losing confidence in the Labour government’s ability to deal with the crisis? According to a major Guardian/ICM poll published on January 27, faith in Prime Minister Gordon Brown — the architect of the Government’s anti-recession strategy — has collapsed so completely that even a majority of traditional Labour supporters say they are ‘doubtful’ whether he can turn things around. Most people are pessimistic, with 64 per cent saying the government’s plans will either achieve ‘nothing’ or make the situation ‘worse.’ Among Labour voters, only 48 per cent believe these plans will work. While job creation schemes and measures to boost consumer spending such as a two per cent cut in VAT have proved popular, there is widespread opposition to bank bailouts. In fact, anger over bailing out banks is cited as an “important factor in the evaporation of confidence in Labour’s handling of the economy.” The loud and clear message is that the ‘Brown bounce’ is over, at least for now; and the Tories, with a 12 percentage point lead over Labour, are back in contention. In the event of an election ‘tomorrow,’ Labour will lose heavily giving Tories a comfortable majority.

This represents an alarming reversal in Labour’s fortunes after the recent boost in its ratings on the back of an ambitious £20 billion ‘emergency’ anti-recession package announced in November 2008. Spun as the biggest shake-up of Labour’s economic policy since it came to power in 1997, the package included a range of measures to help low income groups and stimulate the economy. While this seemed masterful, the Tories looked confused and incoherent. Prime Minister Brown rightly dismissed them as a “do-nothing party” while presenting himself as the safest pair of hands to see the country through the crisis — famously declaring that this was “no time for a novice” in a dig at the inexperienced Tory leader David Cameron. The Tories still look confused and incoherent and have no alternative strategy to offer. But unfortunately for Mr. Brown, his plans have not worked, forcing him to announce a second round of fiscal stimuli. Will it work this time? His “best bet,” as The Guardian commented, is to “throw everything at it — and then to pray that it works.”

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