Brown to announce May 6 as date for general election
Published 06/04/2010 | 05:00
AT last, Britain is about to get an election date. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to play his hand, pay a visit to the Queen and name a date for the first general election since 2005 -- almost certainly May 6.
For Mr Brown, election day could mark the ignominious end of a three-year term beset by division within his party, relentless media sniping and the near-collapse of the British economy.
Defeat would end a British political era begun with Tony Blair's landslide 1997 election victory, which returned the Labour Party to office and brought an unprecedented three successive election triumphs for the centre-left party.
The Conservatives hope to win a national election for the first time since 1992.
The Labour Party is as much as 10 points behind the Conservatives and their untested leader, David Cameron, in some opinion polls. But an unusual electoral map means the outcome is still uncertain and some cracks are beginning to show in the Conservatives' facade.
An ICM poll published by 'The Guardian' showed Labour closing in on its main rival -- climbing four points to 33pc with the opposition Tories down one point with 37pc.
"The Conservative Party and its supporters really must understand the scale of the battle they have to fight," former Conservative deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine told BBC radio. Whoever ends up running the debt-plagued nation will face restive unions and a population that will be asked to contribute more and receive less.
Britain's recession-wracked economy and enormous debt are likely to dominate the election campaign. Both Labour and the Conservatives say they will trim spending and slash the £167bn (€189bn) deficit -- but they differ on how deep, and how soon, to make cuts.
The Tories say they will reverse Labour's planned hike to national insurance, and implement about £6bn (€6.8bn) in spending cuts this year. Labour says major cuts should be deferred until next year to give the economy more time to recover.
In a podcast on the prime minister's website yesterday, Mr Brown said Conservative plans to cut public spending could tip the economy back into recession.
Brown compared the economy to injured footballer Wayne Rooney, saying that "after an injury, you need support to recover. . . If you withdraw support too early, you risk doing more damage".
The Conservatives countered with an election poster showing a single green shoot emerging from a bleak landscape -- with a boot bearing the words "Job Tax" preparing to stamp on it.
"The choice in this election is very, very clear. You have either got Labour stamping out the recovery, stamping on the green shoots, or the Conservatives avoiding the jobs tax," the Conservative's treasury spokesman George Osborne said.
Britain must hold an election by June 3. Brown is expected to announce later today that it will be held on May 6 -- when elections for town halls are already scheduled to take place.
Britain's next government must make sharp cuts to services, complete political reforms following a scandal over MPs' inflated and fraudulent expenses claims, and public sector unions -- sensing the looming cuts -- are in militant mood and threatening strikes.