LONDON – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched his re-election campaign Saturday, appealing to voters with a promise that only the Labour Party can help the dismal economy recover without major cuts to social programs.
In a speech focused on the economy and social equality, Brown said his governing party would work to create more jobs and protect Britain's public schools and hospitals from spending cuts — unlike the Conservative Party, which he portrayed as elitist and backward-looking.
"We must secure the recovery, not put it at risk," Brown said as he kicked off the campaign at a party rally at central England's Warwick University. "As we reduce the deficit by half, we must protect and not cut front-line services," he said.
Brown was flanked by senior cabinet ministers from his party, which has said it would postpone major cuts until 2011, hoping to stimulate economic growth. The Conservatives, headed by David Cameron, said that if elected they would slash spending to tackle a deficit likely to top $263 billion this year — a plan Brown said would choke off recovery, harm essential social services, and lead to a decade of austerity.
Britain must hold a national election by June 3. An exact date has not been announced yet, but opinion polls show that Cameron's party has a solid chance to end 13 years of Labour Party supremacy.
The Conservative Party said five more years of Labour rule will not change anything and suggested voters are impatient for change.
"Gordon Brown has nothing positive or new to offer Britain in today's speech and is taking people for fools," shadow chancellor George Osborne said. "They have failed on fairness and failed to find a credible plan for economic recovery."
Labour has trailed in the polls for more than two years, with Brown all but written off by a public disillusioned by an expenses scandal, war casualties and the financial crisis. But as Britain emerges tentatively from recession, analysts say the leader may yet have an unexpected shot against Cameron — a confident but untested former public relations executive.
In his speech, Brown urged voters to scrutinize the promises of change made by the Conservatives and to reconsider Labour's achievements.
"I know that Labour hasn't done everything right, and I know ... that I'm not perfect," he said. "But I know where I come from, I know what I stand for ... My message to you today is simple: Take a second look at us, and take a long, hard look at them."