Gordon Brown has spoken of his admiration for Margaret Thatcher and said he is a "conviction politician" like the former Tory prime minister.
"I think Lady Thatcher saw the need for change," he told a Downing Street press conference. "Whatever disagreements you have with her about certain policies – there was a large amount of unemployment at the time which perhaps could have been dealt with – we have got to understand that she saw the need for change." He added: "I also admire the fact that she is a conviction politician... I am a conviction politician like her."
The Prime Minister's remarks will raise the eyebrows of some Labour MPs. In 1989, he wrote a book entitled Where There Is Greed: Margaret Thatcher and The Betrayal of Britain's Future.
Mr Brown sought to exploit Tory infighting over Lady Thatcher's legacy, accusing David Cameron of showing a "failure of leadership". He said: "The [Conservative] leader is a prisoner of the factions rather than the factions being led with conviction."
The Tories said Mr Brown's pledge to usher in a "new politics" was in ruins after he ducked calls to take part in a televised debate with Mr Cameron. They accused the Prime Minister of "running away" from an event that could tackle voter disengagement from politics, as he promised to do on Monday. The BBC has sounded out the parties about a debate in recent weeks and Mr Cameron agreed to take part.
But Mr Brown, who demanded a TV debate when the Tories were in power, said there was a weekly television debate between him and Mr Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions when Parliament was sitting.
He said there were "plenty of opportunities" for him to be questioned, and that he had probably made more Commons statements than any other prime minister in recent times since taking over the job in June.
Mr Brown said the British system was different to the US, where presidential candidates hold TV debates, because the President was directly elected by the people. He added: "In Britain it has got to the stage where every week there is 30 minutes devoted entirely to this. This allows people to ask their questions and put their views and that is exactly how it has been for many years."
BCaroline Spelman, the Tory chairman, countered: "Gordon Brown said he wanted to look at ways of increasing engagement and introducing a 'new-style politics'. He is running away from that 'new style of politics' by ducking the opportunity to engage the electorate in a TV debate."
Mr Brown played down the prospect of an autumn election without entirely closing the door to one. He said he was "getting on with the job of governing" and hinted strongly that there would not be an election as he promised to make education a key priority.
He confirmed that the Government will set up a review today of whether new rules are needed to protect children from violent and sexual images on video games, the internet and television.
At its first meeting since its summer break, the Cabinet discussed the problem of gun crime and the killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Liverpool. Mr Brown said the Government intended to tackle gun crime though greater use of stop and search powers by the police and more CCTV camera surveillance.
Mr Brown again rejected calls for a referendum on the proposed EU treaty but warned Britain's EU partners that he might call one if they reneged on a deal to safeguard the Government's "no-go areas".
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