Conservatives challenge Brown to call early poll

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LONDON, Sep 28 (Reuters) The Conservative Party challenged Gordon Brown today to call an early general election, saying the sooner one was held the better.

''We are ready for (an election) whenever he wants to. We've been clear from the start that he has no mandate and the sooner a general election comes the better because we do think the country is ready for change,'' a Conservative official said.

A source close to Brown said the new prime minister would be deciding after the Labour conference whether to call a snap general election.

Media reports said Brown and his advisers would meet this weekend to discuss whether to go ahead with an election, perhaps on October 25 or November 1.

Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair in June after an internal party vote, does not have to go to the country before 2010.

But, under Brown, Labour has surged to an opinion poll lead of as much as 11 points over the Conservatives, leading some Labour insiders to believe he may never get as good a chance again to seek his own mandate.

Some reports have speculated that Brown could try to catch the Conservatives at a disadvantage by announcing the election during their annual conference in Blackpool next week.

Conservative leader David Cameron has attempted to steer the party to the centre of politics after three consecutive election defeats to Labour. But he has run into resistance from right-wingers who question his leadership.

The Conservatives set up six working groups which have come up with a wide range of ideas for policies, but they have yet to boil those policies down into a coherent programme.

An early election would force them to speed up the work.

However, the Conservative Party official, briefing on condition of anonymity, said the party was well placed.

''It's always been a scenario that Gordon Brown would go for an early election in the autumn ... There has been planning going on ... to make sure we are ready for an election when it's called,'' he said.

He said the party had a war chest of 10 million pounds, was ahead of Labour in selecting candidates for constituencies and had a draft election manifesto it could use for an early election.

REUTERS SS RAI2008

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