Brown hopes summit aids his recovery

April 6, 2009
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, LONDON, April 6 – British Prime Minister hailed last week\’s G20 summit as representing a "new world order" — but whether it also gives him the bounce he needs to win the next general election is another matter.

As host of the London meeting on the global economic crisis, Brown was battling both to unite divided world leaders and boost support for his flagging premiership ahead of the next election, to be held before mid-2010.

If he fails in his second task, he could be out of Downing Street within a year, regardless of his feats of international statesmanship in achieving the first, experts say.

The G20 summit was at first glance a resounding success for Brown. His leadership in securing an agreement was hailed by US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who went into the summit divided over the need for fiscal stimulus but emerged hailing a historic compromise.

The presence of Obama — plus glamorous wife Michelle — posing with Brown outside Downing Street and wrapping an arm around him after their joint press conference can also only have assisted the British premier.

"It\’s been a PR triumph," Victoria Honeyman, politics lecturer at Leeds University, told AFP. "The Obama effect, the rubbing off of a young, dynamic president has undoubtedly helped him."

But she warned that the "jury is still out" about whether the summit will help Brown claw back the main opposition Conservatives\’ double-digit lead in most recent opinion polls.

An early verdict came Sunday when a Sunday Times/YouGov poll showed Brown\’s Labour Party received a slight G20 bounce — its support rose three percentage points to 34 percent, cutting the Conservatives\’ lead to seven points.

Analysts say he still faces two main problems, though.

The first is that it is difficult to explain to British voters how many of the measures agreed by the G20 — such as one trillion dollars for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other bodies — are going to help them.

"The agreements are complex," Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote Friday. "Arguing that the British economy has no hope unless the world economy recovers might be just too abstract."

The Conservatives, who have repeatedly highlighted Britain\’s large national debt under Brown as fuelling the recession here, are already playing on this point.

In their post-summit comment, finance spokesman George Osborne said the British people would quickly start asking what happens next.

"The truth is Britain will be clearing up the economic mess created by this government long after the G20 show leaves town," he said.

Brown\’s second problem is that it may take some time for the effects of the G20 agreements to filter through.

There are already scattered signs of green shoots in the economy, like last week\’s surprise rise in British house prices and news from the Bank of England on improving conditions for businesses trying to access credit from banks.

Economists warn, though, that despite the figures, a full recovery could be a long way off and Britain still faces significant handicaps like a steep decline in manufacturing.

For Brown, the timing of that recovery — which he hopes will be quickened by the measures announced by the G20 — is all.

"The question is, will it work before the general election?" Honeyman said. "I hate to be a pessimist, but I really doubt it."

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