British PM flaunts economic credentials after campaign gaffe

29th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Embattled British Prime Minister Gordon Brown trumpeted his economic credentials Thursday in the final pre-election TV debate, seeking to move on from a major campaign trail gaffe.

Fighting off a storm of criticism for describing a widowed voter as "bigoted" after she challenged him about immigration on Wednesday, Brown made no effort to hide his error as he opened the debate, which focused on the economy.

"There is a lot to this job and as you saw yesterday I don't get all of it right," he said.

"But I do know how to run the economy, in good times and in bad. When the banks collapsed I took immediate action... to stop a recession becoming a depression.

"As a result of that, the country is now on the road to recovery."

Brown flaunted his much-praised efforts in stewarding the bailout of several ailing British banks in 2008, as he fought to restore confidence in his governing Labour Party which has slipped to third place in some polls.

He immediately tore into Conservative leader David Cameron, saying his plans to make deep cuts in public spending to reduce Britain's record public deficit could tip the country back into recession.

The Tories' plans would "put the very work we have done to secure the recovery in jeopardy," Brown said.

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the third-biggest party in the country which has risen at times to second in the polls thanks his performance in the first television debate, had little chance to shine in the early exchanges.

A week before country goes to the polls on May 6, Brown was fighting for his political life after his remarks about 66-year-old Gillian Duffy piled the pressure on him and the Labour Party.

The first poll to be conducted after the gaffe showed Labour's ratings had not been damaged. The YouGov daily tracker poll for The Sun newspaper of 1,623 adults Wednesday and Thursday showed Labour were unchanged on 27 percent.

The Conservatives were also steady on 34 percent while the Lib Dems fell three points to 28 percent.

In the debate, which focused on the economy, Brown was drawing on his experience gained in a decade as finance minister under then premier Tony Blair, but Cameron accused him of allowing the British economy to become over-reliant on its financial sector.

"The whole economy had to serve the banks and not the other way round," Cameron said, promising to never allow banks to act "in an irresponsible way" again.

All the parties have been accused of failing to give specific detail of how they intended to make cuts to reduce the budget deficit of 11.6 percent of gross domestic product.

Brown said Labour had set out a four-year "deficit reduction plan" starting in 2011 including "tax rises that are fair, spending cuts that are equitable, and at the same time growth in the economy that is essential for recovery".

This would require an increase in the top rate of tax, changes to pension tax relief and a rise in a payroll tax known as National Insurance.

"We have one principle that we are adopting and it's clear," Brown said.

"We are not going to allow the frontline National Health Service, or schools or policing to be cut. We will find the cuts in other areas."

He added: "Don't believe that we can fail to support the economy this year. If we fail to support the economy this year then we risk a double-dip recession and that's really the problem with the Conservative policy."

© 2010 AFP

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