Britain: Brown invokes God to slam tax cuts for rich

By John Rentoul, Jane Merrick

Gordon Brown has invoked God to attack the Conservatives' "unfair" inheritance tax cut for richer voters, making it clear he will go into the closing stages of the election campaign fighting with renewed energy.

In a highly personal interview, with only 10 days of campaigning left before May 6 and Labour third in the polls, the Prime Minister said he drew strength from his upbringing where he had to "fight for everything" as he insisted that the election remains wide open.

Speaking of his anger at Conservative leader David Cameron's plans to lift all estates up to £1m out of inheritance tax, Mr Brown said: "How can it be a priority to give to people who have already got so much? It's not God helps people who help themselves, it's God helps people whom he has already helped. That's what their [the Conservatives] motto is."

The quote "God helps those who help themselves" is attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

In his first speech to his party's conference as Labour leader in 2007, Mr Brown, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, quoted from the Parable of the Talents in the Bible to illustrate his mission for social mobility.

But this is the first time Mr Brown has used God so directly to attack an opponent, and wading into the controversial area of religion for political purposes could be seen as risky.

In his interview, the Prime Minister gave an impassioned defence of his character and determination to fight for an outright victory, despite dismal poll ratings.

Mr Brown also failed to rule out a scenario being discussed among senior Labour and Lib Dem figures in which, if Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg refused to work with him in a hung Parliament, he would hand the Labour leadership to Alan Johnson or David Miliband to form a "progressive coalition" with the Lib Dems.

A ComRes poll for the IoS today puts Labour on 28 per cent, up three points on the same poll last Wednesday, but in third place behind the Lib Dems on 29 per cent, and six points adrift of the Conservatives' 34 per cent. The poll suggests Mr Clegg's insurgency is continuing, despite being checked slightly by Mr Cameron's improved performance in the second televised leaders' debate last Thursday.

The survey, in line with the majority of others during the campaign, suggests the election will result in a hung parliament, with the Conservatives 55 seats short of a majority.

Mr Brown, speaking en route to the marginal territory of the East Midlands yesterday, where he and his wife Sarah were joined by an Elvis impersonator, described his mood and that of the Labour Party as tireless, fearless and fighting all the way".

He said: "People know that the fight is on. They know that the election is wide open, they know that the closed book that people expected it to be a few weeks ago is not where we are."

In a swipe at the popularity of Mr Clegg following his performance in the first television debate, Mr Brown added: "You start a campaign by people focusing on novelty, and on personality and style, but you end the campaign where people actually think: 'Here I am, a voter - what's going to happen to my job, what's going to happen to my family, my police, my school?"

He stressed: "I am working for a majority Labour government."

What would he say to people who doubted he could last the course? In a veiled reference to both those in the Labour party who tried to topple him and to the privileged upbringings of Mr Cameron and other senior Tories, Mr Brown said: "I am a fighter, I always have been. I come from a background where you've got to fight for everything. Nothing ever comes easy by just good fortune. You've got to fight for everything you do. When things are tough, you've got to get up in the morning and show some resilience and determination and fight through it."

The premier attacked the Tories' policy of cutting tax credits for those on middle incomes while giving inheritance tax cuts of £200,000 to the owners of the 3,000 wealthiest estates, "most of whom the leaders of the Conservative Party know by name".

Displaying a flash of anger, he added: "How can you tolerate that level of unfairness when you are dealing with young people who are unemployed, dealing with mothers who are going to lose child tax credits, dealing with urgent needs care for the elderly?"

Mr Brown also tore into the Tories' tax break for married couples as "effectively a married man's allowance", because it will benefit more men than women. He appeared energised as he conducted part of the interview in a platform cafe at Kettering station.

The emergence of the Lib Dems in the race, reducing the Tories' lead, has paradoxically benefited Labour, because it makes an outright Conservative victory less likely. Yet there has been a change in Labour strategy from a week ago, when Mr Brown was making overtures to Mr Clegg to pave the way for a progressive alliance to keep the Tories out of power.

There has also been speculation of a rift between Peter Mandelson, who is running the campaign, and Ed Balls, Mr Brown's closest ally, over strategy. This weekend, the Labour approach to the Lib Dems hardened. Yesterday, Labour's David Miliband claimed that Mr Clegg's "anti-politics" message was no basis for government.

Mr Brown told the IoS that there was "some common ground" with the Lib Dems on political reform n including a degree of electoral reform n but there were fundamental disagreements over the Lib Dem plans to not replace Trident, and scrap both child trust funds and tax credits for higher earners.

"I am not going to talk about understandings, what happens after the election. I am going to put my manifesto for the election," the PM said.

Mr Brown would not address one possible outcome doing the rounds in Westminster: that, in the event of a hung Parliament, he would step aside to allow a figure like Alan Johnson or David Miliband to be leader in a "progressive coalition" with the Lib Dems.

Asked if he felt he was bigger than his party, he replied: "No one is bigger than the party - no one, and certainly not me. [But] if you want to write about what happens after the election, you've got plenty of time to do it after the election is finished.

"As long as the election is happening, we're talking about the policies. I am not talking about all these institutional arrangements that so fixate people in London."

Mr Clegg took a break from campaigning yesterday to spend time with his three sons, who arrived back in Britain on Friday after being stuck in Spain because of the ash cloud.

Mr Cameron campaigned in Essex before taking a break to attend his sister's wedding.

Mr Brown used a speech in Corby, Northamptonshire, to accuse the Tories of planning to cut frontline public services. But shadow Health spokesman Andrew Lansley said: "The public must be fed up with Labour's scaremongering. A Conservative government will not stop you seeing a cancer specialist within two weeks. In fact, because we will increase health spending and cut out waste in the NHS, we'll be able to help you get the care you need even more quickly."

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