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Blair hits the campaign trail to support Brown's re-election bid

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-01

Former British premier Tony Blair (pictured) hit the campaign trail on Friday to help Prime Minister Gordon Brown sway voters toward Labour ahead of a May 6 vote as polls following a final debate put the Conservatives' David Cameron in the lead.

AFP - Ex-premier Tony Blair returned to Britain's campaign trail Friday to help his embattled successor Gordon Brown, who is struggling to keep his re-election hopes alive six days before national polls.

A major gaffe and a poor performance in a key pre-election TV debate have left Brown's Labour Party trailing in third place in polls, while boosting the hopes of his main opposition rival, Conservative leader David Cameron.

Blair, making only his second appearance of the campaign so far in a London health centre, insisted Labour still have a chance of clinging on to power after 13 years in office.

"I believe Labour has every chance of succeeding," he said, adding: "When you get into the final days people will really focus their minds on who's got the best ideas for the future."

Asked if Brown had failed as premier, Blair said: "No, I don't think he's failed at all."

Less than a week before the May 6 ballot, Brown battled to move on from a blunder in which he branded a pensioner as a "bigoted woman" -- but his performance in the last of three TV debates Thursday night failed to inspire.

Instant polls taken after the final US-style TV showdown showed Brown trailing Cameron by more than 10 percent, while the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg came second.

A newspaper poll on voting intentions also confirmed the Conservatives are still in the lead -- the YouGov survey for The Sun had the Tories on 34 percent, Lib Dems on 28 percent and Labour on 27 percent.

Cameron vowed Friday there would be no complacency.

"I do not take anything for granted and we have got to fight a very hard campaign in these last six days to really win people over and say: change is possible, change can happen," he said.

Brown, unveiling a new campaign poster, acknowledged that, if opinion polls remain as they are, he could be out of power by next Friday.

"If things stay the same way, then the Conservatives and possibly the Liberals could be in a government in a coalition together," he told reporters in Birmingham, central England.

But he said: "We will continue to fight for the future of this country until the very last second of this election campaign."

The Lib Dems, long the third party in British politics, have surged spectacularly since the first TV debate on April 15, leapfrogging Labour into second place in most opinion polls.

Clegg again sought to present himself as the outsider on Friday -- a routine which is beginning to raise eyebrows, given his party's support.

"I'm the only leader of any political party in this country trying to deal with a really difficult issue while the others simply treat you like fools," he said in his home constituency of Sheffield, northern England.

Commentators agreed that Cameron had clearly won Thursday's debate, and the Tories received a fresh boost Friday with the endorsement of The Times, one of Britain's leading newspapers, which had backed Labour since 1997.

In a further blow to Brown, the traditionally Labour-supporting Guardian newspaper swung behind the Lib Dems, saying "it is hard to feel enthusiasm" for another five years of Brown in power.

Brown's aides had hoped that Thursday's debate, focused on the economy, would favour the premier, credited with overseeing a decade-long boom as finance minister under Blair.

But a campaign trail gaffe Wednesday left him fighting for his political life and distracted attention from the showdown.

Brown was picked up by a microphone describing 66-year-old Labour supporter Gillian Duffy as "bigoted" in an angry discussion with aides after the widow challenged him on immigration.

Blair -- who made a first campaign speech a month ago in his former Sedgefield constituency -- is also to campaign next week in northeast England, the Guardian reported.

Date created : 2010-05-01


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