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Once a prince of darkness, now loving the limelight

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BRITAIN-ELECTION/“Enjoy it!” That was the message from Peter Mandelson to Labour supporters this morning as he launched a vitriolic attack on the Conservatives during a speech in central London, clearly relishing every minute of it. Once nicknamed the “prince of darkness” for his ability to mastermind Labour’s strategy from behind the scenes, Mandelson has transformed into the party’s best public performer.

It was different in the days of Tony Blair, who could go out and dazzle the voters with his easy charm and passionate oratory, leaving Mandelson to the backroom strategic thinking that helped sweep New Labour into power in 1997 and keep them there for 13 years. Now fronted by Gordon Brown, whose strength lies more in his grasp of policy detail than in his presentational skills, and trailing the Conservatives in the polls a month before an election, Labour need all the charisma they can get. Mandelson has stepped up to deliver it, with evident jubilation.

Denouncing the Conservatives as “parish pump politicians for a global age”, Mandelson insisted that David Cameron and George Osborne had not really modernised their party but rather were still guided by a Thatcherite instinct to cut taxes, cut public spending, keep the state out of the economy as much as possible and hope for the best.

“How limp!” he cried, waving his arms in mock amazement. “How pathetic! How unimaginative! How unsmart!” This was a “dumbing down, bargain-basement approach to competitiveness”, he said, asserting that Conservative views on the role of the state in economic management “belonged in the Ark, aeons ago”.

Taking Twitter’s political temperature

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Britain’s first live television debates between the leaders of the three mainstream political parties are not the only new feature to add spice to the upcoming general election, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown today announced will be held on May 6.

The 2010 vote is also the first time politicians and their strategy teams have had to factor in the micro-blogging site Twitter.com. The social media tool, which did not exist at the time of the last election in 2005, now has over 75 million users who between them sent four billion tweets in the first quarter of 2010.

Political theatre unfolds according to script

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BRITAIN-ELECTION/There was a big fuss but no suspense this morning outside Number 10 Downing Street. In what has become a typical pattern in the world of 24-hour news, media organisations had been briefed in advance on the content and the choreography of Gordon Brown’s election announcement. This was the ultimate scripted, pre-packaged news event.

A huge pack of photographers, cameramen and journalists crowded behind crash barriers across the street from the famous black door from the early hours of the morning. The place was abuzz with technicians doing sound checks and taping cables to the ground with duct tape. The TV channels had lined up their star presenters in smart suits and ties, while behind the cameras reporters huddled in fleeces and scarves to fend off the morning cold in the notoriously draughty street.

Budget for votes riskily delays UK debt pain

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BRITAIN-BUDGET/– The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Alistair Darling promised no election “giveaways” and in one sense he delivered. The UK finance minister’s budget is about not giving away the election. It might have been worse — if Darling had acceded to his boss Gordon Brown’s even more populist instincts. But there are vote-seeking swipes at high earners and banks, as well as a crowd-pleasing but misguided tax cut to first-time house-buyers. The UK’s budget-balancing pain is being postponed and concealed. And that’s risky.

Webcast: Gordon Brown’s speech at Thomson Reuters

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown set out his economic plans during a Newsmaker event at Thomson Reuters on Wednesday. Brown said he believed Britain would maintain its coveted AAA credit rating and announced a pay freeze for senior civil servants and military officers to help reduce a record deficit.

Below is a recorded webcast of Brown’s speech and the Q&A session that followed.

Election TV debates or social media to have biggest impact?

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There are at least two new factors in the coming election — the first-ever televised prime ministerial debates and the first full-on deployment of social media during a British election (Facebook was a year old, YouTube had just started and Twitter didn’t even exist back in 2005).

In a City University panel discussion on the ‘new media election’ Picture 9on Tuesday, host Evan Davies of BBC’s Today programme framed the debate in terms of which would be most influential:  The old, controlled media in the form of the three 90 minute TV debates to be broadcast by Sky, ITN and the BBC? Or the new, uncontrolled variety in the form of anyone with access to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube et al?

Tories could be making sterling a rod for their own back

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BRITAIN-CONSERVATIVES/Talking down the pound could have some pretty bad consequences.

Ever since the debacle of sterling being forced out of the European exchange rate in September 1992, British officials and politicians have maintained a stiff upper lip when talking about the pound.

The Conservative government spent billions of pounds and jacked up interest rates to defend the currency back then, but to no avail. The party’s reputation for economic competence was lost, paving the way for Labour’s big win in 1997.

Newsmaker with David Cameron, George Osborne and Ken Clarke

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BRITAIN-CONSERVATIVES/Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Shadow Secretary of State for Business Ken Clarke will join us on Tuesday March 2 to give speeches and take part in a Q&A session on the economy.

With a recent newspaper poll showing Labour could hold on to power after an election due in the next few months, Cameron has admitted that the Tories now have a “fight on their hands” to prevent a fourth successive election win for Labour.

Where did the Tory lead go?

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An opinion poll published today shows the Labour Party gaining ground on David Cameron’s Conservatives. The Ipsos Mori poll found support for the Conservatives on 37 percent, with Labour on 32 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 19 percent.

Carried into an election this would give Labour the most seats in the House of Commons, although no party would have an outright majority. The Conservative’s lead has been cut from a high of 28 points back in September 2008.

What is Alistair Darling up to?

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darling Normally regarded as a safe pair of hands, Chancellor Alistair Darling raised hell on Tuesday night by confirming on live television what everyone in Westminster has believed for some time.

That was that there were people who worked for the prime minister who briefed against him after he told a magazine interviewer in 2008 that the country was facing the worst economic conditions in 60 years.

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