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Sunday, February 21, 2010


Brown launches fightback ahead of British election

COVENTRY, England (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised on Saturday to heal the battered economy in a plea to voters to renew their faith in his Labour Party, which is forecast to lose a looming election.
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivers a speech at the University of Warwick near Coventry in central England February 20, 2010. Brown pleaded with voters on Saturday to renew their faith in his Labour Party, which is forecast to lose a looming election, and promised to heal the battered economy. (REUTERS/Toby Melville)
Launching a campaign push billed as "Operation Fightback" by his party headquarters, Brown sought to appeal to core Labour voters by portraying the opposition Conservatives as elitist.
"If you, like me, are from Britain's mainstream majority, from an ordinary family that wants to get on and not simply get by, then my message to you today is simple: take a second look at us, and take a long hard look at them," Brown said.
The Conservatives said 13 years of Labour rule was enough.
"He (Brown) asks Britain to take a second look at Labour when the public have been looking at them for 13 years and know they have failed," said George Osborne, who is expected to become finance minister if the Conservatives win.
Labour have won three elections since 1997 under the leadership of Brown's predecessor Tony Blair. Brown took over as prime minister when Blair stepped down in mid-term in 2007.
But Labour's star has faded since the financial crisis dragged Britain into recession. The Conservatives, led by the telegenic David Cameron, 43, are far ahead in all opinion polls, although the gap has narrowed in recent weeks.
The election date is widely expected to be May 6.
In a televised speech on Saturday, his 59th birthday, Brown pledged to secure economic recovery, support the industries of the future, cut the deficit but shield schools and hospitals from spending cuts, and defend the interests of ordinary people.
Focusing on the economy is a risky strategy for Brown, who was finance minister for 10 years before he took over as prime minister, and thus is seen by many voters as partly to blame for a downturn that has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
His rival, Cameron, was quick to make that connection.
"Gordon Brown says, with a straight face, that his is the party for the many, not the few," he said in a webcast.
"Anyone who has lived in this country for the last 13 years knows that is untrue. It is the many who are the victims of Labour's recession," he said.
Brown argues that his decisions at the height of the 2008 financial crisis and since then have averted a deeper crisis.
In his speech, he said Labour stood for equality while the Conservatives represented the elite -- an allusion to Cameron, who attended Britain's most exclusive private school, Eton.
Brown mocked a recent Conservative gaffe, a claim that 54 percent of girls in Britain's poorest areas became pregnant before they turned 18. The correct figure is 5.4 percent. Brown said this showed his rivals were out of touch with society.
Often criticised in his own camp for his stiff manner and trouble connecting with voters, Brown has nonetheless survived repeated attempts to oust him as Labour leader. In an unusually relaxed performance on Saturday, he said he had changed.
"I know -- really, I know -- that I'm not perfect," he said, smiling, to chuckles from an audience of party loyalists.
Later, he was asked by Channel 4 television to respond to rumours that he was prone to violent fits of rage.
"If I get angry, I get angry with myself ... I have never, never hit anybody in my life," he said.

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