Brown to fight 'till very last second'

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Gordon Brown today vowed to fight to "the very last second" for a Labour victory in the General Election, as the Liberal Democrats claimed they were now the main contenders in a two-horse race with the Tories.

The Prime Minister pledged "to try harder, to work longer and to dig deeper" in the remaining days after the third and final leaders' debate failed to deliver the breakthrough Labour strategists were hoping for.

With the party's hopes of a fourth historic victory apparently slipping away, ex-PM Tony Blair made his first appearance of the campaign to insist it was still possible to turn it around in the final days before polling on May 6.

Meanwhile David Cameron cautioned his supporters that the election was still "far from won" after a clutch of instant polls made him the clear winner in last night's televised debate, held at the University of Birmingham.

During a day of hectic campaigning, the three party leaders criss-crossed the Midlands as they began their final push for votes.

With Labour still trailing in the opinion polls, a defiant Mr Brown tried to rally his supporters, declaring that he would not give up the fight.

"The time for debates is finished, the time for decision has begun," he said. "We will continue to fight for the future of this country until the very last second of this election campaign."

Mr Blair - making a relatively low-key campaign visit to a clinic in Harrow, north west London - rejected suggestions that Labour was heading for a catastrophic third place, insisting the party could still snatch victory.

"Once you get into the final days, I think people will really focus their minds on who has the best answers for the future, who has got the energy, the drive, to take the country forward," he said.

"I think Labour has got every chance of succeeding. But we will succeed best - and I don't think this is much disputed by people - if the focus is on policy. That is where we are strong."

A buoyant Nick Clegg dismissed Mr Blair's appearance as "measure of some desperation" by Labour, saying they had been reduced to "wheeling out the golden oldies" to prop up their campaign.

The Liberal Democrats, he said, now offered the only alternative to a Conservative government after May 6.

"This election campaign is now coming down to a simple choice - a two-horse race between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats," he said.

Mr Cameron warned his supporters - some sensing victory in the wake of his success in the debate - that the election was still "far from won" for the Conservatives.

The party was sending out its "contract" with voters - setting out 16 key pledges - to two million households in target constituencies, including Labour-held marginals potentially vulnerable as a result of the Lib Dem surge.

"I am just very focused on the next week because this is still an election where we have to fight for every vote and every seat," Mr Cameron said.

"I do not take anything for granted and we have got to fight a very hard campaign in these last six days to really win people over and say: change is possible, change can happen."

Labour strategists had been hoping that Mr Brown could use last night's debate focusing on the economy - seen as his strong suit - to change the dynamics of the campaign.

But in his closing statement, the Prime Minister offered his starkest admission yet that they could be heading for defeat.

"I know that if things stay as they are, perhaps in eight days' time David Cameron, perhaps supported by Nick Clegg, would be in office," he said.

A combined series of snap polls taken after the debate made Mr Cameron the clear victor on 38%, with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on 32% and Mr Brown trailing on 26%.