Brown to face critics after poll climbdown

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LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) Gordon Brown is expected to respond to critics of his leadership today after his weekend climbdown over an early election.

After weeks of hinting an election was coming, the prime minister ruled out calling an early vote after opinion polls showed a double-digit lead over his opponents had evaporated in a week.

Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron said Brown was treating the public ''like fools''.

Brown will hold a press conference at noon where he is likely to face tough questioning by journalists over his decision not to call an election.

He will then go to parliament where he will make a long-awaited statement on Iraq following his flying visit to the country last week, where he announced that 1,000 troops would come home by Christmas.

The trip backfired after it emerged that half of those cuts had already been announced.

Later he is due to meet with Labour MPs, many of whom are furious over the election debacle, which has given opposition politicians the chance to accuse Brown of being weak and indecisive.

Brown, who took over from Tony Blair three months ago, insisted he would have won an election had he decided to call it, but wanted time to carry out his policies first.

''The easiest thing I could have done is call an election. I could have called an election on competence ... We could have won an election now or won an election sooner or later,'' Brown said in an interview with the BBC.

''I believe the country deserves to see from us our vision of the future and our implementation of it.'' Speculation of an early vote had run riot over the past few weeks when polls showed Brown with an 11 percent lead over his Conservative rivals.

The government rescheduled business to make an early vote possible, and Brown fuelled the speculation by refusing for weeks to rule it out.

Government ministers and Labour figures took to the Sunday talk shows to back Brown's decision, but in private they acknowledged he had been hurt.

''He'll take a pasting,'' one government minister told the influential Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley.

''The big, precious thing Gordon had -- his reputation for solidity -- that has been eroded,'' said another cabinet member, who Rawnsley described as ''angry and rather troubled''.

Reuters ARB GC1248

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