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Europe

Leaders face off in third and final election debate

Video by Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-30

The leaders of Britain's three largest parties met in the third and final televised debate ahead of the May 6 general election, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown hoping to make amends a day after he described a voter as "bigoted".

 
REUTERS - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown needs a show-stopping performance in an election debate on Thursday to offset a blaze of bad publicity after he called a supporter of his Labour Party "bigoted".
 
Brown has said Labour are in "the fight of our lives" to hold onto power after 13 years and Wednesday's disastrous blunder will not have helped. The opposition Conservatives are first in all the opinion polls, with Labour and the smaller Liberal Democrats, or Lib Dems, vying for second place.
 
"Yesterday was yesterday, today I want to talk about the future of the economy," Brown said on Thursday at a factory near Birmingham, where the TV debate will take place at 1930 GMT. But the fallout from his gaffe was still dominating media coverage.
 
Brown, whose critics paint him as a socially unskilled bully, was caught on Wednesday complaining about a woman in her 60s who had challenged his government's immigration policy.
 
"She's just sort of a bigoted woman," Brown was unwittingly recorded as saying to his aides after meeting Gillian Duffy. The comment has been replayed countless times across the media.
 
He later apologised to Duffy in person, but his remorse may not appease many voters before the May 6 ballot, heaping pressure on him to claw back lost ground in Thursday's televised leaders' debate, the last of three before the election.
 
The U.S.-style debates, a first in British politics, have dominated campaigning and the final one will focus on the economy, the most important issue of the election as Britain struggles with sluggish growth and a huge deficit.
 
"I think the debate will stand on its own," said Conservative leader David Cameron, who stands to replace Brown as prime minister if his party wins. "It's a very important moment in the election," he told BBC TV.
 
Senior Labour minister Alan Johnson told the BBC that Brown would be "pulling out all the stops" in the debate.
 
Third Man
 
The third man battling with Brown and Cameron in the TV debate will be Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, whose popularity surged after a strong performance in the first encounter.
 
REPORT: France 24 picks Scottish voter's brains ahead of elections
Opinion polls consistently predict the Lib Dems will grab enough votes to deny both the traditional main parties an overall majority, an outcome not seen since 1974.
 
A Reuters/Ipsos MORI poll of "marginal seats", ones held by Labour that the Conservatives need to win to triumph at national level, suggested the election would deliver a "hung parliament" in which no single party has an absolute majority of seats.
 
It also found nearly half of voters in these swing seats might still change their minds, suggesting the outcome was still wide open.
 
The Conservatives say a hung parliament would unnerve markets and damage the economy as parties jostle for position rather than tackling the deficit, running at more than 11 percent of gross domestic product.
 
The media will scrutinise the last TV debate for any clues on the extent or timing of the budget cuts required. Politicians have been wary of scaring voters by being too candid about what are expected to be swingeing cuts.
 
The Conservatives want to present an emergency budget to cut spending, a move they say will safeguard Britain's AAA credit rating. Both the Conservatives and Lib Dems warn Britain risks a Greek-style economic meltdown if the deficit is not slashed.
 
Labour points to signs of economic growth, which it says will be put at risk if deep budget cuts are made too soon.
 
Such are the tough measures needed to tackle the deficit that winning the election could be a poisoned chalice, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King was quoted as saying.
 
U.S. economist David Hale told Australian television that King had told him last week that "whoever wins this election will be out of power for a whole generation because of how tough the fiscal austerity will have to be".

 

Date created : 2010-04-29

  • UK ELECTIONS

    Brown calls voter 'bigoted woman' in campaign blunder

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