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U.K.'s prime minister faces tough election task

He's lost a major parliamentary vote, a key aide and, according to critics, his authority. So can British Prime Minister Gordon Brown avoid losing the looming national election?
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.Lefteris Pitarakis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

He's lost a major parliamentary vote, a key aide and, according to critics, his authority. So can British Prime Minister Gordon Brown avoid losing the looming national election?

Just weeks after Brown confidently hosted a London summit at which global leaders agreed on plans to fix the troubled world economy, his personal stock has plummeted.

A bungled attempt to restrict lawmakers' expenses, a parliamentary defeat over rights for army veterans and mounting skepticism over skyrocketing national debts are hardening criticism of Brown's leadership.

The sharpest blows are no longer dealt by his political foes — but from within the ranks of his own Labour Party.

Ken Livingstone, a Labour firebrand and London's ex-mayor, said Friday that Brown is almost certain to lose a national election that must be held by mid-2010.

Lawmaker David Blunkett, a Cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, praised Brown's handling of the economic crisis — but said he had lost touch with voters' day-to-day concerns. Charles Clarke, an ex-Home Secretary, said some recent events had left him ashamed to be a lawmaker with Brown's party.

'He's had it'
And one of the Labour Party rebels who contributed to the prime minister's first major parliamentary defeat on Wednesday declared Brown's time was over.

"He's had it. He's finished. The prime minister is complete blown chaff," Bob Marshall-Andrews was quoted as saying Friday by Britain's Independent newspaper.

Marshall-Andrews was one of 27 Labour rebels who opposed a government decision that loosened but did not eliminate immigration restrictions for the Nepalese veterans of Britain's armed forces. The issue also united Brown's two key rivals — Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg — suggesting the two could work together in a future coalition government.

Other recent woes have included the embarrassing resignation of Brown's longtime media adviser Damian McBride, who quit after acknowledging he authored an e-mail suggesting scurrilous rumors about political opponents should be circulated on the Internet.

And following public anger over cushy expense deals for lawmakers, Brown's attempt to reform the rules came unstuck. He won backing Thursday to force legislators to declare full details of second jobs — but had to abandon plans to replace allowances used to pay for second homes in London with a daily attendance fee.

Lawmakers and the public also mocked Brown's recent You Tube video, filmed to announce the new proposals. His performance, punctuated by awkward smiles, led some to liken him to Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker in "Batman."

Opposition grows online
Around 40,000 signatories also have backed a petition on Brown's own Web site calling for the leader to quit.

"The bottom line is that Brown's not popular, he's not particularly charming — and there are questions over his political judgment," said Ben Page, managing director of polling company Ipsos MORI Public Affairs.

The latest opinion polls give Cameron's Conservatives a 13 percentage point lead over Brown's Labour, a result which would send him to Downing Street with a clear majority in Britain's House of Commons.

But if no political party wins overall control — as some analysts predict — Cameron and Clegg appear poised to strike a deal.

Either scenario would return Brown's Labour to opposition for the first time since 1997, and end a run of three successive national election victories won by Blair.

"For anyone to come back from this position, and win an election, it's pretty much unheard of," Page said..

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