Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 17:25 UK

Is Brown set for post-holiday blues?

By Laura Kuenssberg
BBC News political correspondent

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown faces a crucial test at the Labour conference

Going back to work after a holiday is rarely the best feeling.

But the prime minister could be forgiven for having a worse case of post holiday blues than the rest of us.

His in-tray is bleak.

Gordon Brown has to confront continually terrible poll ratings - an ICM poll in today's Guardian newspaper shows Labour trailing the Conservatives by 21 points.

That might have nudged up by one point since last month, but it's Labour's worst rating in August since the 1980s.

Other polls make no more pleasant reading. A 'poll of polls' in last week's Independent newspaper put Labour on just 27%, its poorest showing since 1935.

No easy fix

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University described Gordon Brown to me as the "most unpopular Labour prime minister ever, leading the most unpopular Labour government in history."

That's hardly an enviable position or, more to the point, a situation that has an easy fix.

And while the urgency of the debate around replacing him has calmed down a little with so many politicos on holiday, the pressure on him to deliver in the next few weeks is intense.

Showing the public and his own MPs that he has a grip on the stuttering economy is top of the list.

A one-off payment to families to help with fuel bills could emerge, help for the housing market perhaps, although the mooted suggestion of a stamp duty holiday backfired even before it became a solid proposal.

Gordon Brown's refrain that Britain is a victim of "global economic turbulence" may hold some truth, but he is the man who many voters will blame.

Changing faces

What about changing his team? It was rumoured that the PM was set to reshuffle his cabinet in September, to try to re-establish his authority, and show who was in charge.

But so close to a crucial party conference at the end of the month, the chances of that are fading.

And there is never any guarantee that changing the faces round the table restores the public's faith in a government.

Reshuffled or not, Gordon Brown's government has to go to the polls again shortly, in another by-election in Scotland.

Only last month the Scottish Nationalists outsmarted Labour in one of the party's safest seats, Glasgow East.

They face a tougher fight in Glenrothes soon, after the death of the sitting MP.

Heavy odds

No date is yet fixed for the by election, and a debate is ongoing about playing it long or short, but whenever the ballot actually takes place, the odds are stacked heavily against Labour.

Like a mediocre speech at the party's conference in three weeks' time, a bad performance at the by-election would almost inevitably provoke another fevered bout of Labour angst about Gordon Brown's leadership.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, stopped short of challenging his boss, when he wrote of Labour's need to sharpen its game in a newspaper last month.

But he made it plain that his career plan includes a shot at No 10, even if he doesn't want, yet, to be the one to provoke a leadership race.

His supporters are not the only ones talking about the future. And if Gordon Brown can't begin to show he can turn things round, that's a future for Labour that might not include him.


SEE ALSO
Ministers back Brown's leadership
03 Aug 08 |  UK Politics
Kick out plotters, Sugar tells PM
02 Aug 08 |  UK Politics
MPs urge Brown to sack Miliband
31 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
Miliband denies 'leadership' bid
30 Jul 08 |  UK Politics

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