In Britain, A Desperate Brown Is Hanging On

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and wife Sarah walk toward Omaha Beach after attending a D-Day commemoration at the Normandy American Cemetery.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and wife Sarah walk toward Omaha Beach after attending a D-Day commemoration at the Normandy American Cemetery. (By Peter Macdiarmid -- Associated Press)
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By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 7, 2009

LONDON, June 6 -- Two years ago, Gordon Brown entered 10 Downing Street for the first time as prime minister and promised, without a smile, to "try my utmost."

The brainy, stone-faced Scot was the perfect tonic for a British public jaded after a decade of his flashy predecessor, Tony Blair. Within a week, Brown's popularity ratings had soared to 77 percent.

Now a battered Brown finds himself desperately clinging to his job, facing a fed-up public, a rebellious party and, if things get much worse, the prospect of being one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in modern British history.

"It is a tragedy. He wanted the job so desperately, and very few people think he's doing it well," said Anthony King, professor of government at the University of Essex. "He lacks friends, he's acquired enemies, and he has very few admirers, even in his own government."

British voters pummeled Labor in elections held Thursday for local councils and Britain's representatives to the European Parliament, giving the opposition Conservative Party victories in British cities and towns they had not controlled in a generation.

A raging expense-abuse scandal involving members of Parliament has reached the top levels of Brown's cabinet, and 11 senior members of his government resigned in three days last week.

By Friday, an exhausted, baggy-eyed Brown stood in front of reporters and endured a humiliating grilling in which he vowed he would not give in to increasing calls for his resignation.

"I will not waver," Brown said. "I will not walk away."

Brown appeared with President Obama on Saturday in France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day. But at home, a furious debate continued about whether Brown might be forced out, and, if he remains in office, whether he still has the strength to govern effectively.

"It's very bleak," said Nicola McEwen, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Edinburgh. "The big question now is: Can he hang on to a time of his choosing, or will internal pressure be enough to replace him?"

Brown, 58, is serious, intellectual and deeply conversant in even the most minute policy details. He has been widely praised for his leadership, especially abroad, in the global financial crisis.

But he is also seen as too somber, overly cautious, indecisive and unable to communicate his ideas.


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