BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on British voters on Saturday to judge him on the economy and public services ahead of his first electoral test since taking office uncontested last year.
Brown built a huge lead in opinion polls when he replaced Tony Blair last June, but this vanished after the public punished the prime minister for perceived dithering over calling an election and Britain’s first bank run in more than 140 years.
With growth now slowing, Brown will urge Labour Party followers to remind voters of the government’s record over the past decade on health, education, crime and the economy as they campaign ahead of local government elections on May 1.
“My pledge to the British people is that we will keep inflation and mortgage rates low,” Brown will tell a Labour rally, according to extracts of his speech.
“Creating and sustaining a strong economy will always be our starting point.”
After a torrid six months and the forced nationalisation of the country’s fifth-biggest mortgage lender Northern Rock Brown’s ratings appear to have stabilised leaving him with a small deficit to the opposition Conservative Party.
Labour’s performance in the May polls will now be key in deciding when to call a national election. It must take place by May 2010 but most are expecting an election next year.
In the past few weeks, Brown has unveiled policies likely to appeal to traditional right-wing Conservative voters, such as tougher rules on immigration and crime, as well as measures aimed at the increasingly important green vote.
This week, Labour announced plans to get the private sector involved in the welfare system and called for people with drug problems to have benefits docked if they do not seek treatment.
Measures to curb binge drinking and cheap alcohol have been mooted and Labour is bringing in tougher rules for people wanting to come to Britain.
“Security for all also means that only those with a right to be here and something to give should get the opportunity to stay in Britain,” Brown said.
Brown is still putting himself forward as the champion of the poor and hard-working families, the traditional bedrock of the Labour Party he transformed along with Blair in the 1990s.
“When people ask me why they should vote for New Labour, I ask them to think of the dreams they have for their kids and then join us in daring to believe,” he will say.