LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron used his final debate in parliament before a tight national election to deny he had become a lame duck leader, emphasizing instead an economic record he hopes will overcome stagnant opinion polls.
Contesting the closest and most unpredictable British election since the 1970s, Cameron’s Conservative Party is neck-and-neck with the opposition Labour Party, but with neither on course to win an outright majority.
In febrile scenes, Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband used the opportunity to rehearse their attack lines before the May 7 election to cheers and jeers, with Miliband quipping that Cameron’s surprise decision to rule out a third term meant he had announced his retirement.
Cameron’s remarks about his future, in which he named three possible successors and said he wouldn’t seek another term if re-elected in May, are widely seen to have backfired, sparking a media frenzy about his successor and talk of him becoming an ineffectual outgoing leader.
“Would the prime minister agree with me that it is entirely fair now to refer to him as lame duck?,” Labour lawmaker Stephen Pound asked Cameron.
Cameron tried to turn the question around to focus on what he said would be the appalling prospect of Labour doing a post-election deal to govern Britain with Scottish nationalist politician Alex Salmond and his party.
“I’ll tell him what is a lame duck, and that is trying to get into Downing Street on the back of Alex Salmond’s coat tails,” said Cameron. “Never mind talk of ducks, I am looking at Alex Salmond’s poodle,” he said, gesturing to Miliband.
The Scottish National Party, which has bounced back from losing an independence referendum last year to surge in the polls, has said it would try to block Cameron’s party from forming a government if the result of the election is inconclusive.
Cameron repeatedly fell back on his economic record on Wednesday, a likely leitmotif of the coming election campaign.
“This is a country where unemployment is falling, the economy is growing, the deficit is coming down,” he told parliament. “All of this would be put at risk by Labour. That is the choice in 43 days time, competence and a long term plan that is delivering, instead of the chaos of economic crisis.”
Cameron also ruled out a rise in value added tax.
But Miliband said Cameron’s pledges were worthless.
“Nobody believes his promises, he has had five years of failing working families, and worse to come, more spending cuts, more tax cuts for the richest, more betrayal,” he said.
“This has been a government of the few, for the few. It is time for a better plan, it is time for a Labour government.”
Additional reporting by William James and Stephen Addison; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge/Jeremy Gaunt