LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown is less trusted than any other major western European leader in being able to steer his country through the global financial crisis, a Financial Times poll showed on Monday.
It was the latest blow to Brown's reputation for economic competence as the housing market faces a sharp downturn amid the international turbulence.
Concern over the impact of the credit crunch is growing and mortgage lenders called on the Bank of England on Friday to increase efforts to ease the impact, warning home loans could halve from last year's levels.
In the Financial Times/Harris poll, 68 percent of Britons said they were "not confident at all" in the ability of the government to steer the country safely through tough times.
In contrast, voter confidence in their government's abilities to ride out the financial crisis was 52 percent in Germany, 51 percent in the United States, 50 percent in France, 43 percent in Italy and 36 percent in Spain.
"Gordon Brown has forfeited his trump card," the Financial Times concluded. "The mantle of economic competence, the ruling Labour Party's most potent electoral weapon, is up for grabs."
Asked if the poll's findings worried Brown, the prime minister's spokesman said: "These are difficult times for the global economy. It is entirely understandable that people are concerned about their well-being."
Brown believes Britain is well-placed to withstand the turmoil. "We were the fastest-growing economy in the G7 last year and the IMF is forecasting for us to be the fastest-growing economy this year," the spokesman said.
A Sunday Times poll showed that Brown, widely admired for steering Britain through a period of uninterrupted growth in his decade as Chancellor, suffered the biggest drop in personal ratings since polls were first taken in the 1930s.
The YouGov poll in the paper showed the resurgent Conservatives on 44 percent with Labour on 28 percent and the centrist Liberal Democrats on 17 percent.
But the biggest blow was delivered in the soundings on Brown's personal ratings -- they have fallen from plus 48 last August to minus 37.
"The collapse is the most dramatic of any modern-day prime minister, worse even than Neville Chamberlain who in 1940 dropped from plus 21 to minus 27 after Hitler's invasion of Norway," the paper said.
The Conservatives pounced on Brown's woes. Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said: "Brown rested his claim to economic competence on three pillars -- stability, prudence and productivity. Those three pillars lie broken."
Brown, who took over from Tony Blair in June last year, does not have to call a national election until 2010 so time is on his side if the global economy recovers.
The leader is holding a breakfast meeting with leading executives and bankers from London's financial district on Tuesday before flying off to the United States where the global downturn is bound to dominate discussions.
He is to meet Wall Street bankers in New York on Wednesday and President Bush in Washington on Thursday.