WRAPUP 3-"Bigot" gaffe haunts UK PM before TV poll debate

* Labour leader Brown’s gaffe could overshadow TV debate

* Debate focuses on economy, main election campaign issue

* Polls point to “hung parliament”; voters still undecided

(Previous LONDON, adds new poll, comment from Brown, Cameron)

By Kylie MacLellan

BIRMINGHAM, England, April 29 (BestGrowthStock) – 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.

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For an overview of election stories, click [nUKVOTES]

For a summary of polls, click [nUKPOLLS10]

For a graphic of polls, click on http://r.reuters.com/fyx59j

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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.

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. [ID:nLDE63R0WN]

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”. [nSGE63018]

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WRAPUP 3-“Bigot” gaffe haunts UK PM before TV poll debate