LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ruling Labour Party appears to have lost “the will to live” and must fight harder if it wants to win an election due by next June, finance minister Alistair Darling said in a newspaper interview today.
Speaking to the Observer newspaper before a crucial party conference that opens today, Darling issued a rallying cry to Labour members to raise their game or risk handing power to the opposition Conservatives.
The centre-left party that has ruled Britain since Tony Blair swept to office in 1997 has been shaken by the worst recession in decades, a scandal over politicians’ expenses and doubts within Labour over the choice of Brown as leader.
“We don’t look as if we have got fire in our bellies,” Darling was quoted as saying in the Labour-supporting weekly.
“It is rather like a football team. Sometimes you see them playing and their heads go down and they start making mistakes and they lose the will to live.”
Darling said Brown and other senior ministers must personally take responsibility for reviving Labour’s flagging popularity.
‘Fight of our lives‘
With Labour activists meeting in the southern seaside town of Brighton for one of the most important conferences in years, a poll suggested Brown will have a tough time convincing voters to give his party an historic fourth successive victory.
The ICM poll in the News of the World gave the Conservatives a 14-point lead over Labour, broadly in line with other recent surveys. Asked who would make a better prime minister, 43 per cent of those polled chose the Conservatives’ youthful leader David Cameron, with only a fifth picking Brown.
The Conservatives were on 40 per cent, with Labour on 26 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 23 per cent.
Brown, a former finance minister who replaced Blair in 2007, acknowledged the scale of his task in the foreword to a policy document released by his office yesterday.
“We know this will be the fight of our lives,” Brown wrote.
Placing the economic recovery at the heart of his election campaign, Brown repeated his government’s pledge to halve the deficit in four years. The Conservatives’ finance spokesman, George Osborne, attacked Brown for “reinventing himself as the guardian of the nation’s finances after doubling the national debt.”
“It is the latest attempt to treat the public like fools,” Osborne said.