LONDON Prime Minister Gordon Brown came under pressure to set out a clear vision of where he wants to take the country on Sunday after a poll showed Conservatives enjoying their strongest support for 15 years.
The poll giving the Conservatives a 7-point lead over Brown's Labour Party capped a bruising week for Brown in which he was pilloried for a U-turn over an early election and accused by the Conservatives of stealing their policies.
Brown enjoyed a honeymoon with voters during his first 100 days after taking over from Tony Blair but his comfortable 11-point poll lead has been wiped out.
The latest ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph showed the Conservatives on 43 per cent with Labour trailing on 36.
The setbacks for Brown have sparked criticism that he lacks what former U.S. President George Bush famously referred to as "the vision thing".
"The key challenge for us -- and Gordon has rightly identified this -- it's a vision thing," business minister John Hutton told the BBC on Sunday. "What we have got to do now is set out our vision for the next 10 years."
Former cabinet member and Blair ally Lord Falconer said Labour, in power for the last decade, had to make clear its vision for Britain.
"Because if we rely on experience and our ability to handle crises and do not set out, in the coming months, our vision for the future of the UK ... then we will be offering drift not leadership," he wrote in The Sunday Times.
Brown was savaged by the press and opposition after deciding last weekend not to call a snap election two and half years early, dashing expectations raised by his own aides.
After unveiling its spending plans on Tuesday, the government was accused of pilfering the opposition's ideas on environmental taxes and cutting inheritance tax.
Brown was widely perceived to have come off second best in a bruising parliamentary encounter on Wednesday when Conservative leader David Cameron called him a "phoney".
Pouncing on Brown's trip to Iraq to announce troop cuts, the Conservatives accused the 56-year-old Scot of using the same public relations "spin" that voters disliked in Blair.
Brown has broadly pushed ahead with the policies that brought Blair three election victories and have given Britain steady economic growth for a decade.
He has put affordable housing and better health and education at the top of his agenda while saying the government must respond to people's rising aspirations.
Some Blair policies -- such as a plan to build supercasinos -- have been ditched while Brown has sought to distance himself from the unpopular Iraq war.
But political commentators increasingly warn that if Brown does not come up with new ideas, voters may view the government as worn out and turn to the Conservatives.
"He has got a clear vision but I think it's right to say he hasn't spelled it out as clearly as he perhaps ought," Labour legislator Ian Davidson told Reuters. "Clarifying there is a clear moral purpose and political direction would be helpful."
Lancaster University politics professor David Denver said talk of vision was overdone. "It's not so much vision as competence that matters," he said, adding Brown must get to grips with issues like problems in the state-run health service.