Unhappy anniversary: British PM marks two years in office
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Unhappy anniversary: British PM marks two years in office

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown marks two years in office on Saturday -- but could struggle to notch up another as he reels from an MPs expenses scandal which shook his already fragile premiership.

world Updated: Jun 26, 2009 12:16 IST

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown marks two years in office on Saturday -- but could struggle to notch up another as he reels from an MPs expenses scandal which shook his already fragile premiership.

Faced with likely ouster by the opposition Conservatives in a general election next year, according to polls, Brown hopes his plans for pulling Britain out of recession and shaking up parliament will turn his fortunes around.

There are signs, however, that many voters have already decided they are ready for change after 12 years of government by Brown’s ruling Labour party.

“The problem is at some point, you get to a stage where people just stop listening to you,” said Robin Pettitt, a politics lecturer at Kingston University in London.

“The current government is getting awfully close to having reached that stage.”

Brown has admitted that recent weeks -- when he faced calls to quit as the expenses scandal raged and 11 of his ministers resigned after historic local and European poll defeats -- were among the worst of his political life.

And there could be more to come. He has around a year until he must call a general election and opinion polls give the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, a double-digit lead over Labour.

If he loses, Brown would be one of the shortest-serving prime ministers of recent decades.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper last week, Brown hinted he had started to think about life after Downing Street, musing that he could become a teacher post politics.

“To be honest, you could walk away from all of this tomorrow,” he told the paper.

“I’m not interested in what accompanies being in power. I wouldn’t worry if I never returned to all those places -- Downing Street, Chequers (the premier’s country house)... and it would probably be good for my children.”

The bleak situation is a turnaround from two years ago.

Brown took power from long-term friend-turned-rival Tony Blair -- who quit after being politically wounded by leading Britain into the unpopular 2003 Iraq war -- on June 27 2007, unopposed in a party leadership election.

He earned an early ratings “bounce” for his assured handling of crises including a failed bomb plot in London and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

But after Brown backed out of calling an expected general election in October 2007, his ratings started to slide.

He fended off calls for a leadership election in September 2008 and seized back the political initiative with his handling of the world economic crisis, praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, among others.

Around the start of this year, Labour started losing ground to the Conservatives again in polls, apparently as voters started to doubt Brown’s efforts to fix the economy.

Some experts said Britain might be in less economic trouble if Brown had not built up such a big budget deficit as finance minister under Blair, while Cameron jibed that Brown “didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining”.

The expenses row, one of Britain’s worst political scandals in decades, broke the following month when the Daily Telegraph newspaper revealed how MPs (members of parliament) had claimed public money for everything from a duck island to swimming pool maintenance.

Although the scandal tainted both Conservative and Labour lawmakers, Labour’s poll ratings were particularly hard hit.

Brown now faces a rough ride to the general election although, with two failed leadership plots behind him, it seems unlikely he will be ousted before then.

He told the Guardian last week that he hoped steps he had taken on the economy and lawmakers’ expenses would start to win round voters soon.

“People know we’ve made these decisions to try to sort the economy out, but they don’t yet see the results,” he said. “Same thing on MPs. You’re in that period between the implementation of your policy and the delivery of it.”

Pettitt said Brown’s major flaw as a leader was his “lack of a grand vision” but added history could still judge him kindly, even if he loses the next election.

“I think in the short-term, he’ll not go down as one of the great prime ministers, mainly because if you lose the first time you face the electorate, that never looks good,” he said.

“Long-term, it will depend on how people read his handling of the economic crisis... I have a feeling that actually once all the dust has settled, the response will be analysed as a good one.”

First Published: Jun 26, 2009 12:06 IST