Matt Falloon

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Brown soldiers on

May 1, 2010

If a car slams into a bus stop just yards away as you launch a last-ditch election offensive, you might be forgiven for thinking that the gods are
not on your side.

But even after the nightmare week British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has had, such portents of doom have little visible effect on the self-proclaimed underdog in this, one of Britain’s most closely fought parliamentary elections for 25 years.

Brown and his cabinet colleagues, unveiling campaign posters in a windswept car park on Friday when the sound of screeching brakes made everyone jump, ploughed on with their attack on the centre-right Conservatives, warning that a vote for the opposition would put British economy and families at risk.

“You have got to have this inner reservoir of resilience to fight back when anything happens to you,” the Labour leader told students later in an athletics hall at Loughborough university.
“That’s what I’ve got to do in the next few days anyway.”

Even a man who has survived two coup attempts from within his own party since taking over from Tony Blair in 2007 could not have expected such bad luck in the days before the May 6 election.

Behind in opinion polls for much of his three-year tenure at the top, this was meant to be the week Brown fought back.

The third, and final, televised leaders’ debate was on the economy — a godsend for a man who helped spearhead the response to the global financial crisis and served as finance minister for a decade before taking over from Tony Blair in 2007.

Brown had not fared well in the previous two debates, with the younger Conservative David Cameron and particularly Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg going down far better with viewers.

But Labour aides were hoping this one would turn the race to Brown’s favour and open the door to a fourth term in power.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

A lifelong Labour supporter called Gillian Duffy intervened, bumping into Brown on the campaign trail in the northern town of Rochdale and offloading some of the issues that worried her.

The resulting gaffe — Brown was caught calling her a “sort of bigoted woman” on a broadcast microphone — was the election blunder the British media had been baying for.

Brown showed resolve to gather himself for Thursday’s debate but again failed to connect with the millions that tuned in.

“Gordon Brown was the clear loser, having failed to grasp his last chance to claw his way back into contention,” said Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Eurasia Group.

Visiting Blidworth Oaks Primary School in northern England on Friday, Brown was asked by a 10-year-old pupil why he had chosen his job as prime minister.

Growing up in a small, disadvantaged town in Scotland, Brown said, had inspired him to try to improve peoples’ lives.

“I thought maybe I could make a difference,” he said. “When you see problems around you, you want to do something about it.”

Brown’s tight tour schedule cut short the questions.

“Maybe you can invite me back sometime,” he said.

The son of a Scottish clergyman has just five days left to find out if his luck will turn and he can make that return journey as prime minister.

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  • About Matt

    "I cover all aspects of government policy from the British parliament, but concentrate on Number 10, fiscal policy at the Treasury, and monetary policy at the Bank of England. I am based in our parliament office in Westminster and in our UK bureau in East London."
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