LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown goes into his final pre-election debate today trying to rescue his Labour Party from defeat while fending off a gaffe in which he called one of his traditional voters “bigoted”.
Brown, whose critics paint him as socially unskilled and bullying, was caught on tape yesterday complaining about a woman in her 60s who had challenged his 13-year-old Labour government’s approach to immigration.
“She’s just sort of a bigoted woman,” Brown was unwittingly recorded as saying when he got into his car after meeting Gillian Duffy, a voter in the northern town of Rochdale.
Brown later apologised in person, but his remorse may not convince many voters before the May 6 ballot, heaping pressure on him to claw back lost ground in today’s televised leaders’ debate, the last of three before the election.
The US-style debates have dominated campaigning, and the final debate at 1930 GMT will focus on the economy, the most important issue of the election as contenders tout plans to cut Britain’s record budget deficit.
Centre-left Labour has trailed the centre-right Conservative Party in opinion polls, and even the much smaller centrist Liberal Democrats, or Lib Dems, according to some surveys.
British bookmakers sharply lengthened their odds against Labour securing a majority in the election after Brown’s gaffe, although some voters and pundits were more sympathetic, playing down his outburst as a mistake anyone could make under pressure.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s popularity has surged after the first two debates, alarming Labour and the Conservatives, who have warned that a vote for the Lib Dems would make an inconclusive election and so called “hung parliament” more likely.