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Huge Struggle Ahead if Britain's Brown is to Keep Labor in Power

Celebrated internationally just six months ago for his call to spend our way out of the global downturn, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's political fortunes have soured dramatically on the domestic stage. Under the backdrop of a deep recession and a number of scandals, the ruling Labor Party has sunk to its lowest level of popularity in more than 60 years of official polling. Huge challenges facing Mr. Brown and his party with a general election to come within 13 months.

It has been almost two years since Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair. The job came with a host of inherited baggage and Prime Minister Brown has been fighting a largely uphill battle ever since.

With the exception of last November when he championed the call to reform the banking system and six weeks ago when he hosted the Group of 20 summit in London, Mr. Brown's poll numbers have been poor. In the weeks since the G-20 meeting, the already rough recession has been biting even harder here and multiple scandals are undermining his authority.

The latest negative story to affect the Brown government concerns the abuse of the expense system by politicians. People everywhere in the country are angry, especially under the backdrop of tough economic times.

In the House of Commons this week, Gordon Brown acknowledged the damage.

"We must prove ourselves worthy of the public's trust. We most apologize for mistakes that have been made," Brown. "We must rectify all of the errors that have happened and we must reconstruct the system in a way that the public will see it as building confidence in the political process."

Conservative Party leader David Cameron was much more forceful and sounded more in tune with the mood on the street.

"Is it not time to wake up and see what is going on in the country? Is it not time to for us to see ourselves as the rest of the country sees us? Is it not time to stop the talking, stop the endless committees and start showing some real leadership to deliver some real change? How can we bring about the change this country needs if we cannot change ourselves?

Having obtained leaked parliament expense records, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper has been running exclusive stories every day for the past week.

Assistant Editor Andrew Pierce says although it has damaged the reputation of all British politicians, Mr. Brown's Labor Party has taken the biggest hit.

"It always tends to hurt the government more because "A", they have got more MPs [members of parliament] than the opposition parties, the Conservative and the Liberal-Democrats," he said. "And also some of the figures who have been caught in the sharp glare of the bad publicity generated by the expenses scandal are indeed cabinet ministers. People that people have actually heard of."

The latest public-opinion polls have been grim reading for Prime Minister Brown. One this week, published by the Mail on Sunday, showing the Conservatives on course for a landslide victory is typical.

Andrew Pierce says it seems like one problem after another for the prime minister, and that is taking its toll.

"I think the voters have pretty much decided with the Conservatives having now surged into a lead of about 20 points, and that has been consistent in the polls for some weeks," said Pierce.

Gordon Brown had a brief high where he conducted successfully in the views of most people here the G-20 negotiations in London. He was praised by Barack Obama, but within weeks he was brought to his knees by a series of scandals. There was one of his key Downing Street advisors had to resign after e-mails were uncovered by my own newspaper in which he was suggesting a series of unsubstantiated smears against a leader of the opposition and the shadow chancellor. He had to go and that was very damaging for Gordon Brown not the least because it took him four days to apologize.

A damaging fight over residency rights for old Gurkha soldiers in Britain and an erosion of civil liberties have also put the Brown government squarely on the wrong side of the argument with the public.

As Pierce says, for many voters, enough is enough.

"People are fed up with them frankly. The time for change argument is becoming very powerful. The recession is going to get much worse," said Pierce. "Unemployment, which at two million, will probably be three million come the next general election and people who have lost their jobs do not care about whether Gordon Brown conducted G-20 successfully. They will blame him and government that they have lost their job."

In three weeks, European and local elections will be held across England. If projections are correct, Labor will do very badly and many expect Mr. Brown to radically shake up his cabinet at that point. But few here believe that will be enough to shake up Mr. Brown's fortunes.