UK's Brown faces jibes over election U-turn

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LONDON, Oct 10 (Reuters) Opposition leader David Cameron ridiculed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for failing to call an early election today, accusing him of lacking courage and of being a ''phoney''.

Brown looked uncomfortable as he came under sustained attack in his first parliamentary question-and-answer session since he announced last weekend he would not call a snap poll, after his aides had fuelled speculation that there would be one.

Cameron accused Brown of not telling the truth about his reasons for scrapping an election, said he had broken his word by refusing to hold a referendum on a European Union treaty and implied he had stolen the Conservatives' ideas on taxes.

Brown cancelled mooted election plans after opinion polls showed Cameron's Conservatives closing a gap on Brown's Labour Party that had been as wide as 11 points a week earlier.

Brown has insisted he was not influenced by the polls.

''He's the first prime minister in history to flunk an election because he thought he was going to win it,'' Cameron said sarcastically, causing uproarious laughter.

''Does he realise what a phoney he now looks?'' he asked, accusing Brown of treating people like fools.

''BOTTLE'' JIBES Cameron and other Conservatives made mocking references to ''bottle'' -- a colloquial term for ''courage'' or ''nerve''.

''If you've got some questions about our policy, find a bit of courage, discover a bit of bottle, get in your car, go down to Buckingham Palace and call an election,'' Cameron told Brown.

Conservative lawmaker Bob Neill suggested Brown might like to inspect his local recycling scheme. ''I could take him and show him one of our bottle banks,'' he said, to loud jeers.

Brown defended himself in the circus-like atmosphere of the packed chamber. He said he would not take lectures from Cameron, accusing the opposition leader of several policy U-turns.

''We will govern in the interests of the people and what matters to the people is the health service, education, housing,'' Brown said with sternness.

Brown, who took over from Tony Blair in June, does not have to call an election until 2010. He has said it is now unlikely that he would call one this year or next.

The Conservatives accused the government of stealing their ideas on Tuesday when finance minister Alistair Darling laid out plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold for couples while taxing wealthy foreigners. The moves were similar to proposals made by the Conservatives a week earlier.

Asked whether the ideas had been part of the government's budget plans before the Conservatives unveiled their proposals, Brown accused the Conservatives of miscalculating their tax numbers and of helping the rich.

''Never have the British people been treated with such cynicism,'' Cameron said, accusing Brown of lacking conviction.

''Last week he lost his political authority, this week he's losing his moral authority. How long are we going to have to wait before the past makes way for the future?'' he added.

Reuters SYU DB2144

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