LONDON (AP) _ Like George Bush across the Atlantic, John Major promised economic recovery but instead presided over a deepening recession. And increasingly, the public is turning against him.

Major's woes have been compounded by his failed attempt to retain a Cabinet minister in a sex scandal, last month's currency crisis and this week's humiliating retreat from plans to close more than half of Britain's coal mines.

There's more trouble ahead over planned spending cuts and getting Parliament to ratify a treaty on European union that has split his Conservative Party.

''It may be the ambition of some to see this country isolated as a sour little outpost of western Europe, but it is not my ambition,'' Major told the House of Commons on Tuesday, rejecting demands to delay ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on closer European union.

Between August and September, the prime minister plummeted from a 47 percent approval rate to 33 percent, according to a poll published earlier this month in the Sunday Times. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

''We're losing heart with the Conservatives now,'' said Barry Charman, who runs an office-cleaning business in Boreham, north of London. ''I just don't know what's going wrong.''

Like most small businessmen, Charman voted Conservative in April, helping Major's governing party to a fourth successive election victory.

Conservatives argued that their re-election would provide the vital spark of confidence to ignite economic recovery. But that hasn't happened.

Like Bush, Major was the handpicked successor of a strong leader. Many Britons disliked Margaret Thatcher, but she commanded the loyalty of the largely pro-Conservative press and big business, and enjoyed a big parliamentary majority throughout her 11 years in power.

Major, 49, has only a 21-seat overall majority in the 651-member House of Commons. And even Conservative newspapers have turned on him.

Once greatly liked as a genuinely nice man, he is now accused of indecision and drift - and ridiculed for announcing a new program to provide more restrooms along main highways.

''I used to call myself a true-blue Conservative, but now I'm only a middling Conservative,'' said Jacqueline Aslan, 38, who feels stuck in her job as a travel agent because new opportunities have vanished. ''He doesn't appear to be a tough enough character to take charge.''

Most analysts believe Major can hang on, but the news lately has gone from bad to worse.

Major scaled down the coal-mine closures to avert a government defeat in a parliamentary vote Wednesday that would have endangered his personal political survival.

''We have not carried hearts and minds with that economic judgment,'' he told Independent Television News on Tuesday. ''We have to listen to what people say.''

As for European union, Major has pledged to submit a ratification bill to the House of Commons by early next year and has staked his political future on getting it passed.

Opposition Labor Party leader John Smith on Tuesday described Major's presidency of the European Community, which began in July, as ''inept and fumbling.''

Major was forced to pull the plunging pound from Europe's currency system on Sept. 16 and devalue it - after promising never to do so.

A week later, he accepted the resignation of National Heritage Minister David Mellor after insisting through the summer that his friend would not be drummed out of office by newspaper headlines about an affair with an actress and friendship with the daughter of a Palestine Liberation Organization official.

Major is still standing by the treasury chief, Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, who has taken the brunt of the blame for the currency crisis and the stagnant economy.