Economic Policies Change Political Fortune of U.K.'s Gordon Brown

Once dismissed as Britain's ditherer-in-chief, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has taken decisive action to rescue the nation's banks, charting the way for bailout packages in the U.S. and the European Union.

For the moment, Brown may have more modest hopes: reviving his political fortunes on the back of the widespread praise he has received for his bold decision to take ownership stakes in ailing banks in a bailout worth $63 billion.

"Gordon Brown: European Superhero," declared a column in Le Monde, which ran a poll showing the French had more faith in Brown to rescue the world's economy than their own president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Paul Krugman, this year's Nobel economics prize laureate, praised Brown and his team in his New York Times column, saying they "defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up."

Brown — often caricatured as dour and cheerless — soaked up the accolades as he took questions from the foreign press Tuesday. One reporter asked whether he should be referred to as "Gordon" or "Flash Gordon" — the quick-footed science fiction hero.

"Just Gordon, just Gordon, I can assure you," chuckled a blushing Brown.

For the British leader who has gone from political has-been to hero, it has been a remarkable turnaround.

Since he replaced Tony Blair in June last year, Brown's Labour Party has suffered crushing defeats in a series of special elections and lost control of London's City Hall to the main opposition Conservatives.

He earned a reputation as a ditherer after he decided against snap elections last year — and his poll ratings have been in a near freefall ever since.

Now, the longtime former Treasury chief under Blair has been given a unique chance to shine in his area of expertise: the economy.

He has taken up the opportunity with relish, appearing almost daily in nationally televised press conferences in which he has presented bold policy initiatives to stop the rot in Britain's financial system.

Even the bookies are sensing a new momentum for Brown.

Until last month — when delegates at the Labour Party's annual conference were agitating for new leadership — bookmakers William Hill and Paddy Power offered 2-1 odds that Brown would leave in 2008. The odds lengthened to 8-1 since Monday's announcement.

"His recent handling of the financial crisis has given him more authority," said Darren Haines, a spokesman for Paddy Power. "It's only in the last month that he's turned things around, in the eyes of the punters anyway."

But some contend the worst is yet to come — both for the economy and Brown.

Although the series of cash injections into ailing banks have triggered a rebound in markets, it's not clear whether it will be enough to stop a global recession or stave off Britain's own economic troubles.

Britain's inflation hit 5.2 percent on Tuesday. Signs of unemployment are rising. Housing prices have plummeted. Fuel and energy costs are skyrocketing.

Some say that no matter what Brown seems to do, he'll never be able to compete with the charismatic Blair or the youthful and energetic leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron.

"The prognosis is not good because Labour does not look good right now in the polls," said Andrew Russell, a professor from the University of Manchester.

"His message at the Labour Conference about it not being time for a novice, definitely found resonance in his own party and headed off any kind of embryonic challenge to his leadership. Nationally, Brown is facing a much stiffer test in regalvanizing Labour support to win the next election."

While Cameron has generally backed Brown's bailout plan, his economic spokesman has abandoned bi-partisanship to blame the Labour-led government for not taking action sooner in the past decade.

George Osborne accused Brown of presiding over "the biggest economic disaster of our lifetime" and said the government's package should be looked at as a "desperate last ditch attempt to prevent catastrophe" rather than a triumph.

But for the moment, Brown is back to doing what he does best: crunching numbers and dealing seriously with a serious situation.

"He's stepped to the plate and looks more capable in his role," said Vanessa Rossi, a senior research fellow at London's Chatham House think tank, who said if Brown staves off economic disaster he could also improve his party's chances in the next election.