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Britain's Brown puts party on election footing

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s ruling Labour Party has moved to an election footing amid speculation new Prime Minister Gordon Brown could take advantage of opinion poll leads to hold a ballot as early as October, officials said on Wednesday.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown answers questions from journalists at the United Nations headquarters in New York, July 31, 2007. Brown, enjoying a lengthy political honeymoon after taking over as prime minister in June, may call an election as early as October to cash in on opinion poll gains, The Times newspaper said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Chip East

“We are making the necessary preparations for a general election so the party is ready to fight a winning campaign whenever the prime minister chooses to name the day,” Martin Salter, a vice-chairman of the party, told Reuters.

Brown has enjoyed a political honeymoon since taking over as prime minister from Tony Blair in June, helping Labour to open an opinion poll lead of up to nine points over the opposition Conservatives, hit by infighting and public relations blunders.

The Times newspaper reported Brown had ordered the party to begin raising funds as part of preparations for a general election as early as October.

Salter declined to speculate on timing, but said: “We are in a strong position and want to be in a position to capitalize on that.”

Political commentators are skeptical about an October election, saying Brown will want more time to introduce new policies and will not want to risk the premiership so soon after finally achieving his ambition of securing the top job.

A source at Brown’s Downing Street office said the new prime minister was not ruling anything out. But the source added: “There’s nothing to justify saying that this is because Brown is planning to spring an autumn election.”


Brown, who served as finance minister throughout Blair’s decade in office, has appointed cabinet minister Douglas Alexander as his election coordinator.

The new prime minister, enjoying a significant “Brown bounce” in popularity, celebrated his first month in power last week with the party’s best poll ratings in four years.

A Daily Telegraph poll showed 41 percent backing for Labour, 32 percent for the Conservatives and 16 percent for the centrist Liberal Democrats.

In another poll for the Times on Tuesday, support for Labour rose to 39 percent, its highest level in 18 months, while the Conservatives fell to 33 percent, the lowest since leader David Cameron took over as head of the party in December 2005.

Until the “Brown bounce” prompted speculation of an earlier call to voters, the next general election had not been expected in Britain until 2009.

The Times said Brown had ordered a complete review of Labour’s organization before leaving for his trip to Washington this week. It also said he had asked senior party members to step up preparation of Labour’s election manifesto.

Before it contemplates an election, Labour needs to build up its depleted base of party workers and local activists and replenish its treasure chest.

The party has debts of 25 million pounds ($50.6 million) and a long-running police investigation of political party finances -- closed last month without anyone facing criminal charges -- put off donors from coming forward.

Some commentators say Labour may be spreading election speculation to destabilize the Conservatives, struggling to end a run of three successive general election defeats to Labour.