On Monday this week, Gordon brown unveiled the pre-budget report which included a £20bn stimulus package aimed at assisting families and those on low incomes, as well as small businesses, through the financial downturn. One of the most significant aspects of the package will be tax cuts, including a temporary drop in VAT from 17.5% to 15%, the minimum amount permitted under EU laws. It is hoped that the drop in consumer tax will urge the public into a spending spree in the run up to Christmas, giving a much needed boost to economy with most retailers affected by a dramatic slowdown in spending in recent weeks. In short, Brown's plan is for the British public to 'spend their way' out of the coming economic slump.
The direct measures aimed at lessening the affects of the financial crisis are a continuation of Gordon Brown's aggressive decision making over the course of the past few months which has seen favour in the prime minister and the Labour Party rise substantially. During the worst of the crisis, in late September and early October of this year, Labour's opinion poll rating rose to its highest levels since January - 33% - cutting the gap between Labour and the Conservatives to 10%. Only this summer the gap had been a remarkable 20%.
The popularity of the Prime Minister was given a significant boost by his swift decision to introduce a £400 billion bail-out plan to rescue Britain's ailing banks. The move to take a stake in private companies was a bold one, swiftly imitated by governments across Europe, giving the sense that the UK government was acting more decisively in response to the crisis than other leading nations such as Germany, where Angela Merkel has come under criticism for going hiding at this crunch time on the global scale.
The question is how long will Gordon Brown be able to hang on to this gain in popularity and whether improved opinion poll ratings will be enough to secure himself and Labour a general election win which for most of 2008 has looked far from realistic.
There is now even talk that Brown will call a general election as early as summer 2009, something which the Prime Minister himself has denied. Many thought that he would call for an early election in late 2007 to capitalise on his honeymoon period in office. The fact he didn't suggested he would wait to fully establish himself in the position and wait until the last possible moment to face the electorate, May or June 2010.
The recent return of Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell to the political scene, however, has fuelled speculation Labour might be gearing up to a much more immediate election campaign. Both men were key instruments in Tony Blair's successful 1997, 2001 and 2005 campaigns.
More recently, however, there have been signs that Brown's early autumn gains in the election polls might be starting to wane. The Prime Minister's keenness to perpetuate his image as a key player in the global economy was slightly dented by his announcement that the recent G20 meeting of global leaders in Sao Paolo was a roaring success. Though the leaders from the world's 20 largest economies agreed to work together in averting a major global economic crisis, there was little in the way of substantial framework or policy to report back from the event.
Following this, Brown and Labour have come under heavy fire, particularly from opposition leader David Cameron, that his plan for the government to 'spend its way' out of a major recession will bring with it a heavy long-term burden for the British public with taxes having to be raised substantially at a later date for the additional spending and cash cuts awarded at present. Brown was quoted as advocating the need for the government to spend big now to prevent the country from entering an even stepper and longer lasting downturn than the one that is already predicted with the proverb "a stitch in time saves nine". The Conservatives have also accused Labour, through such high levels of public spending, of deliberately leaving a trail of 'economic destruction' of which they, as the next governing party, will have to bear the brunt.
Whether this is true or not, the opposition's tactics appear to be having an effect, though not necessarily in their favour. A Times poll taken in the last few days indicates that the Prime Minister's popularity has plunged by five percentage points in the last month. However, the poll also shows that support for both Labour and the Conservatives has fallen by roughly the same amount during the same period with only the Liberal Democrats showing a gain in popularity.
It is important not to place too much value on opinion polls whilst an election, even if it does take place next summer, is still a considerable way off. In the recent US election the Democrats and the Republicans were roughly neck and neck until the financial crisis that blew up in mid September swayed the final result significantly in favour of Obama. A week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes. Who knows what will take place in the 30 weeks between now and next June.