One minute the British Prime Minister was perceived as a rock solid father of the nation who could be relied upon to put substance before style and, then, almost overnight, he's portrayed as a stodgy ditherer who's lost his bottle (British slang for nerve).

One minute Brown and his party held an eight point lead over their Tory rivals in the polls and the next they're running neck-and-neck. The British dailies are having a field day with such headlines as "Crisis for Brown", "They will call him Bottler Brown" and "Prime Minister's Colour is Yellow".

The way they're carrying on one might think he hid under the table during Mrs. Thatcher's recent visit to Downing Street - understandable in her "Iron Lady" heyday - or did something equally as spineless.

So what exactly is the poor man's crime? In fact, there isn't one. All he did was announce that a general election isn't on the cards this autumn. First of all, he never said there would be one and secondly, he is entitled to remain in Number 10 for another two years.

Critics say he should have put a damper on media speculation weeks earlier. But what if it has taken him until now to make up his mind?

After all, it was no easy decision. Brown has waited ten years for the top job and who can blame his reluctance not to risk ending up on the political scrap heap even before he's spread his wings.

Since he came to office he's had nothing but one crisis after the other to sort out and on that score he's performed well. Within a few short months he's had to deal with floods, terrorist attacks, two outbreaks of foot-and-mouth and he actually managed not to put his own foot in his mouth during a tense meeting with President George W. Bush over Iraq.

Just a little while ago it seemed the British public held their new prime minister in high esteem. He was the perfect antidote to Tony Blair. In his own words "a conviction politician".

If, in another life Blair was a slick-talking used car salesman, dour Brown would have been the comforting family physician; some might say undertaker.

Ghostly apparition

Then just when Blair disappeared into the ether like some rarely glimpsed ghostly apparition hovering between other people's holiday homes in the West Indies and the Palestinian territories, Brown became haunted by Blair's doppelganger, better known as Tory leader David Cameron.

Indeed, Private Eye published photographs of Blair and Cameron on one of its covers captioned "World's first face transplant a success".

Earlier, the youthful Cameron had more or less been written off by the electorate as a green behind the ears, bike-riding, "hug a hoodie" championing light-weight.

For the right-wing he was too much to the left; for the left he smacked of public school old boy elite. Then came last week's annual Conservative Party Conference and with it a re-invented nattily attired David Cameron challenging Brown to an autumn duel.

Admittedly he was impressive. Although as I watched it I couldn't help wondering how many days and nights he had spent learning his "spontaneous" words by heart.

It was too smooth; too unhesitating and delivered with confidence that was a tad irritating - in other words, far too reminiscent of Blair circa 1997.

That was when the tide turned for our Gordon. His adequate address during the Labour Party Conference just a week earlier was now seen as dull, uninspiring and orchestrated.

Suddenly substance is out and style has made a comeback it seems.

Not quite! It should be mentioned that Cameron and Co. have promised the abolition of inheritance tax for estates valued at less than one million pounds, and exemption from stamp duty for most first time home purchasers.

So whether the great and fickle British public has massively made a U-turn for love or money is still a moot point.

I would guess a bit of both. Brown may have presented a welcome serious alternative to his somewhat fly-by-night predecessor with a penchant for hugging American presidents but there's no doubt that Western publics like their politicians served with a splash of pizzazz and more than a sliver of panache. It's not a hard and fast rule and if it were Bush would be the most prominent exception to it.

They want a leader who is photogenic and charismatic. They want a Reagan, a Clinton, an Obama or, dare I say it, a Blair without the icky baggage.

This is the real problem that Brown must overcome. Perhaps he should get a makeover. A little more glamour and a little less formality would be nice; a couple of European aristocrats in his entourage; an exotic holiday or two, plus an occasional photo-op in designer jeans, even better.

I know that's not going to happen and that's exactly why I'm glad he eschewed that premature election. He may not be touchy feely and he's no charmer but when the chips are down he'll get the chance to show the electorate just how much bottle he's hiding up his sleeve.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at Response to this article may be considered for publication.