Brown fails to shake off sleaze scandal

BRITISH Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s bid to re-establish confidence in his government days before he sets out the budget is being thwarted by a sleaze scandal he cannot shake off.

Despite a week of resignations and apologies, during which the prime minister sought to end a scandal about offensive emails sent by one of his closest advisers, Brown’s weekend opinion poll ratings suggest voters are unimpressed.

Support for his Labour Party slumped to 26% in two opinion polls in yesterday’s newspapers — with one putting the opposition Conservatives as much as 19 points ahead — before the budget on Wednesday.

Another survey showed over a third of voters said they trusted Brown’s government less in the wake of the email scandal involving smears about Conservative rivals.

Brown’s aide Damian McBride was forced to resign a week ago after sending emails containing unfounded smears and Brown later apologised for his adviser’s actions.

Media commentators were quick to forecast doom for Brown’s party: “Labour Death Throes” was the Sunday Express tabloid’s headline and the Sunday Telegraph said Brown was “paying a heavy price for the email saga that has engulfed his government”.

Even the left-of-centre Observer newspaper, traditionally more supportive of Labour, wrote an editorial about the government’s last days and urged Brown to “re-engage with a public heartily sick with the political class”.

“What is needed from Mr Brown, as the Labour government enters its final year, is a new sense of leadership based on moral and political candour,” it said.

More worrying for Brown, key figures within his own party also cautioned the public is tiring of Labour’s failings.

“Anyone reading the papers today would not think it was going to be on the medal podium,” Olympics minister Tessa Jowell told Sky television when asked about her party’s performance.

Brown must call an election by mid-2010 and is battling a deep recession which is pushing millions into the ranks of the unemployed and threatening to explode government finances.

With the prospect of unemployment soaring over three million by the end of the year, Brown is planning a £2bn (€2.26bn) package to boost jobs as a centrepiece of his budget.

He has injected a massive fiscal stimulus to try to get the economy out of recession and is hoping this will begin to bear fruit before he goes to the polls — most likely in May or June next year.

But the desperate state of public finances is limiting his ability to offer further fiscal boosts to free up credit, spur businesses on and encourage consumers to spend.

Analysts expect Chancellor Alistair Darling to announce in the budget public borrowing will rise as high as 12% of gross domestic product in 2009.


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