UK's Brown defends himself over election U-turn

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LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown today defended his decision not to call an early general election, rejecting criticism that it showed he was weak and indecisive.

Opponents have derided Brown, accusing him of stoking speculation of an early vote only to lose his nerve in the face of opinion polls showing the opposition Conservatives overcoming a big deficit or even in front of the ruling Labour Party.

''Real strength and real decisiveness is making the long-term decisions about the future of your economy and ... about the future of your security and defence,'' Brown told a news conference, dominated by questions about his decision.

Political commentators said Brown, who initially impressed voters after taking over from Tony Blair in June, had scored a spectacular own goal, giving a boost to Conservative leader David Cameron.

The episode revived doubts about the character and decisiveness of the brooding Brown, famous for his mighty intellect but also for being paralysed by caution at key moments.

Brown said his decision at the weekend was not influenced by the polls and that he would have abandoned plans for an election even if Labour had been in the lead.

Brown said he would not blame his aides. ''I take full responsibility for everything that has happened,'' he said.

He conceded he could have taken a decision on an election sooner. ''Perhaps I should have made it earlier,'' he said.

''Your weekend has been better than mine,'' he ruefully told reporters, acknowledging he had had a tough weekend.

ANGERS OPPOSITION Brown, keen to secure his own mandate after Blair's three election victories, had brought forward key announcements to pave the way for a possible election in November. He does not have to call an election until 2010.

He infuriated the Conservatives by visiting British forces in Iraq last week, stealing the limelight from the Conservatives' annual conference.

Conservative leader David Cameron accused Brown on Sunday of treating the British people like fools. ''Everybody knows he's not having an election because he's afraid of losing it.'' Brown said he believed the government would have won an election but he wanted more time to set out his vision for the country.

''I think he will now be known, as he has been privately for a very long time, as a man who finds it very, very difficult to make up his mind on the really tough decisions, especially when they come out of the blue,'' Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor of the mass-circulation Sun newspaper, told BBC radio today.

Brown has long been known for caution that held him back from daring steps that could have advanced his career.

He chose not to stand against the late John Smith in the 1992 Labour Party leadership election and, two years later, decided not to challenge Blair for the leadership.

''I did the right thing when I wanted Tony Blair to be the leader of the Labour Party ... I also did the right thing this weekend,'' Brown told the news conference.

REUTERS SI RK2210

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