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British leaders clash over economy in final TV debate

The leaders of three main political parties in Britain clashed over economy, the key topic in the election campaign, during the final TV debate on Thursday evening in Birmingham before the upcoming general election on May 6.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, also the Labor party leader, opposition Conservative party leader David Cameron, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg made a one-minute opening statements before debating questions chosen by viewers and audience during the 90-minute debate hosted by the BBC.

During the opening statement, Cameron promised to cut welfare dependency, fix banks and get value for money from public services.

Clegg stressed that when cuts are made, public services must be protected, adding that taxes must be fairer while Brown said he prevented the economic crisis from becoming a "calamity", and Britain's future is on the ballot paper next week.

On public sector cuts, Brown said the government's four-year deficit plan includes fairer taxes and spending cuts, but not to schools, the frontline National Health Service (NHS) services and policing. He added that Conservative policy risks a double-dip recession. Clegg said politicians must work together to deal with the economic crisis, with the main parties and experts to meet and "be open" while Cameron accused Brown of "confusing the economy with the government."
On tax policy, Brown said income tax has fallen under his party and that he has recently raised the rate for top earners while Cameron argued the taxpayer has lost out while the government wastes money, adding that the Conservatives would not raise the National Insurance rate.

On banking regulation, Cameron said it is "unacceptable" and that banks must be regulated properly by the Bank of England. He also promised a bank levy and said lending to small businesses must improve. Brown said banks must be restructured and recapitalized to make them fair, and Clegg said there should be no bonuses for board members of banks, adding that there should be no bonuses for staff of banks making a loss and no cash bonuses at all of more than 2,500 pounds (3,750 U.S. dollars).
In addition, the three leaders also discussed how to rebuild Britain's manufacturing industry. Cameron said investing in research and apprenticeship will help. The prime minister said the government is investing large sums in green and digital industry, adding that the Tories would cut this to give corporation tax reductions for banks. Clegg said onto the Britain's manufacturing, the first imperative is to get the banks lending again.
Such issues as immigration, housing, Britain's entry into the single European currency, state benefits and education also topped the agenda during the debate among the three leaders.

Britain's leading economic think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies earlier criticized that voters are being kept in the dark by all three main political parties, which have failed to disclose the scale of tax rises and public sector cuts required to tackle the financial crisis.

Brown treated the debate as a chance to save his campaign after he was caught on microphone branding a 65-year-old woman who he had just had a talk with as "a bigot".

With only a week to go to the election, some opinion polls put Brown's governing Labor in third place, behind the Liberal Democrats, the third and largely ignored party in British politics for the past 90 years.

But the survey showed that the election remains a three-horse race although opposition Conservative party are still ahead.

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