U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party lost its traditional backing from the Guardian newspaper, capping a week when polls showed he was beaten in the final televised campaign debate and was forced to apologize for calling a supporter “bigoted.”
With an election in five days, the YouGov Plc daily poll showed opposition Conservative Party leader David Cameron ahead of Brown by six points in the popular tally and gaining a plurality of seats in parliament, though short of a majority. A separate poll by Harris Interactive put Labour in third place.
The Guardian, which called for Brown to step down in June last year when he faced a cabinet rebellion, endorsed the Liberal Democrats. It’s the first switch from Labour since 1983 when the party led by Michael Foot campaigned for unilateral nuclear disarmament, nationalization of industries and withdrawal from the European Common Market, a precursor to the European Union.
“Invited to embrace five more years of a Labour government, and of Gordon Brown as prime minister, it is hard to feel enthusiasm,” the Guardian said in an editorial. “The Liberal Democrats have for some time most closely matched our own priorities and instincts.”
The London-based Times newspaper today said it was endorsing the Conservatives for the first time since 1992 a day after the Economist magazine said it was ditching Labour for the Cameron’s party.
In its editorial today, the Times blamed Brown for losing Labour its support, arguing he had “squandered the boom” and would put the economic recovery in peril.
“David Cameron has shown the fortitude, judgment and character to lead this country back to a healthier, stronger future,” the Times said. “It is time, once again, to vote Conservative.”
The prospect of a hung parliament, the first since 1974, may unsettle investors concerned that a government would be too weak to fix Britain’s record budget deficit. The pound has fallen about 5 percent against the dollar so far this year as the opinion polls pointed increasingly to a political stalemate.
It’s been a week to forget for Brown. On the eve of the April 29 debate, he was heard calling a Labour voter a “bigoted woman” after an encounter in the northern English town of Rochdale and later apologized to her and to his supporters.
“I have personally paid this heavy price for a mistake that I made,” Brown told the Daily Telegraph in an interview published today. “Sometimes you say things in the heat of the moment, sometimes you pay a very heavy price for those things. Sometimes you say things you greatly regret. And I have paid a very high price for it.”
The YouGov survey put the Conservatives at 34 percent, unchanged from the previous poll. Backing for the Liberal Democrats slipped three points to 28 percent while Labour’s share gained one point to 28 percent.
The daily poll for the Sun newspaper was based on a sample of 1,412 voters who were interviewed April 29-30. That makes it among the first polls whose interviews were exclusively conducted since Brown met the voter in Rochdale.
Brown defended his handling of the incident in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Jeremy Paxman late yesterday and sought to shift focus onto his ability to manage the British economy.
“I think my apology was pretty complete,” he told the BBC. “I do get the big calls right.”
A Harris Interactive survey for the Daily Mail today puts Labour down two points at 24 percent, the Liberal Democrats up three at 32 percent, and the Conservatives at 33 percent.
Harris surveyed 1,020 people on April 29 and yesterday, the Mail said.
Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair, a three-time election winner, lent Labour his support yesterday, visiting the Harrow West electoral district in northwest London. He said he didn’t think the party will come in third on May 6.
“Labour’s got every chance of succeeding,” he told reporters at the event.
In the 2005 election, Labour had an 18-point lead over the Conservatives in the district. If they were to lose, it would suggest it was on course to shed close to half their 345 seats in the Westminster Parliament.
The Guardian, founded in Manchester in 1821 during the Industrial Revolution, has historically supported Labour, calling itself the “voice of the left” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the 1983 election, it backed the alliance between the Liberals and the Social Democratic Party, a forerunner to today’s Liberal Democrats, whose support has surged to post-war records in recent weeks.
“The letters page was where the battle for the future direction of the Labour Party was played out, while the coverage of industrial disputes including the 1984-1985 Miners’ Strike defined the paper’s position,” the paper said on its website.
To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at firstname.lastname@example.org