This will be the test for Labour: how far their performance is decoupled from the public perception of economic crisis and recession.
Britain is preparing for a bleak new year of spending cutbacks, job insecurity and prolonged recession, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. It shows consumer confidence has dropped sharply in the last month as the reality of the economic downturn hits home.The poll, carried out just before Christmas, finds near universal gloom about Britain's economic prospects: 86% say they plan to make cutbacks and live more cheaply in 2009 — only 13% expect to spend as much as they did last year.
If there is no decoupling, then Labour will fall in the polls. Gordon Brown's cheery insistence that he is the rock of stability on which the British people can depend may prove a turn-off: that he is, in fact, the last person they trust, since he is unable to state, in all honesty, that he is responsible for some of this damage.
Gordon Brown today calls on the British people to summon the same patriotic and optimistic spirit that guided them though second world war, as he warns that 2009 will be a year of grave "danger", uncertainty and "enormous economic challenge".
In a New Year message heavy with Churchillian echoes, the prime minister insists that he and his government will be the "rock of stability" upon which people can stand as the economy slides fast into the worst recession for a generation.
"Today, the issues may be different, more complex, more global," Brown says. "And yet the qualities we need to meet them the British people have demonstrated in abundance before."
He says he is confident that because the British have the "right character" they will one day be able to look back on the economic crisis facing them "as another great challenge that was thrown Britain's way, and that Britain met".
Having enjoyed a revival in the opinion polls since the downturn began - and he launched plans to rescue the country's biggest banks from collapse - Brown appears to relish leading the country through even more difficult times in 2009. "The scale of the challenges we face is matched by the strength of my optimism," he says.
This is a tin ear for the electorate, who will not view their sufferings as a national test.