BRIGHTON, England The top-selling Sun tabloid dealt a blow to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's efforts to win a general election, declaring on Wednesday it had switched its support to the Conservatives.
The Sun, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp media empire, delivered a damning thumbs-down the day after Brown's keynote speech to the Labour Party conference.
"After 12 long years in power, this government has lost its way," the Sun said in a front-page article, featuring a picture of Brown and the headline "Labour's lost it".
The Sun boasts a circulation of more than 3 million and a record of backing winners in elections. It switched its support to Labour before Tony Blair led the party to the first of three successive election victories in 1997.
Former chancellor Brown replaced Blair two years ago but faces a fight for political survival. He must call an election by next June and the Conservatives are consistently ahead by 15 points or more in polls.
"The British people will decide the election, not a newspaper. I think people really want newspapers to report news and expect them to do so," Brown told BBC television.
Ground down by recession and angered by a scandal over lawmakers' expenses, Britons appear ready to embrace the Conservatives led by David Cameron, 42.
"What this is signalling is that they (the Sun) think their readers have turned, just as in 1996 when they switched support to Blair, a similar time out from the election," Ivor Gaber, professor of political campaigning and reporting at London's City University, told Reuters.
"They weren't saying 'we suddenly think New Labour is good', they were saying 'we know where our readers are at', and no newspaper likes to be behind its readers."
In a sign of Brown's waning authority, the media has turned on him in recent weeks. He has been forced in interviews to deny reports that he took prescription painkillers and that President Barack Obama snubbed him during a trip to the United States.
Brown, 58, reached out to middle-class voters in his speech on Tuesday, promising tough action on greedy bankers, teenage drunks and errant members of parliament.
He is pinning his hopes on a recovery from the deepest recession in decades, believing that voters will ultimately reward efforts to prop up ailing banks and pump billions of pounds into the economy.
"Once people see that the action I took was quite unique and unprecedented and is yielding results, then we'll be able to talk about the future," he told the BBC.
Dwindling revenues from financial services, combined with higher spending, have left Britain facing a record budget deficit of 175 billion pounds this year, or more than 12 percent of Gross Domestic Product.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have been criticised for failing to give more details of public spending cuts.
Brown said public sector workers would face "decent and acceptable" pay settlements but not a pay freeze. He also said there were no plans to limit access to universal child benefit. (Additional reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Mark Trevelyan)