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Page last updated at 16:26 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 17:26 UK

Election 2010: Leaders prepare for TV debate on economy

Brown: I understand immigration fears

Gordon Brown has said he is determined to focus on the economy ahead of the last live TV debate, a day after he was overheard calling a voter "bigoted".

He said he understood concerns about immigration but added: "Yesterday was yesterday, I want to talk about the future of the economy."

He has apologised to Gillian Duffy, 66, who had challenged him on immigration.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are also focusing on the economy ahead of the BBC's debate in Birmingham at 2030 BST.

The BBC's Nick Robinson said he expected a feisty performance from Mr Brown, who would be fighting not just for himself but also for the future of the Labour Party, amid fears the gaffe will sap morale and persuade people not to bother to vote.

'Double dip'

Meeting factory workers in Halesowen ahead of the debate on Thursday, Mr Brown was again challenged on immigration by an employee who told him it was "way too high".

Mr Brown said: "I understand the worries people have about immigration, I understand the concerns about what is happening to people, neighbourhoods, and I understand the fears that people have."

David Dimbleby
David Dimbleby, debate host

No-one predicted the effect of these TV debates on the election. We are in uncharted territory, with the polls so close and just a week to go.

Tonight's debate in Birmingham is the last chance to see the issues debated as the key players challenge each other.

The last time the spectre of a hung parliament loomed so large was February 1974.

I was reporting from Downing Street the day after that election when the answer to the question posed in that election - Who Governs Britain? - had never been less clear.

Today the question of who will govern Britain a week from tomorrow is as vexed as it has been for a generation. We hope tonight helps you decide where to put your cross.

The debate is on BBC One at 2030 BST, the BBC News website, BBC News Channel and Radio 4

"But we have taken action with this new points system and net migration to the United Kingdom is now coming down."

He said he wanted to talk about the future of the economy and the dangers of a "double-dip" recession and said the "election will be about the economy and about public services".

Mr Brown said he had used the "wrong word" when talking about Mrs Duffy and said he was "concerned" about controlling immigration.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson told the BBC Mr Brown was "under a great deal of pressure" - from dealing with the demands of the campaign as well as being PM - and had made a "dreadful mistake".

Mr Brown has apologised to Mrs Duffy, who challenged the Labour leader on a variety of topics - including immigration from eastern Europe. In comments caught on a microphone afterwards, Mr Brown called her a "bigoted woman".

Mrs Duffy said she was "very upset" at the time, and has not commented since Mr Brown visited her home to apologise.

'Restore your trust'

Both Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg and Conservative leader Mr Cameron avoided commenting on the gaffe and focused on the debate.

Campaigning in Birmingham, Mr Clegg said he would be arguing Britain needed to do things differently to create "an economy which will work for you, where there are jobs and prosperity for everyone".

Gillian Duffy and Gordon Brown

But in a heated exchange he was challenged by student Maya Black, 26, who told him his proposal to give unemployed youngsters more training amounted to only "a glorified piece of paper" if there were not any jobs to go to.

Mr Clegg said "nothing is worse" for young people than to leave them sitting at home, getting depressed because they cannot find a job.

On a visit to Birmingham Children's Hospital to highlight his party's plans to create a £200m cancer drugs fund, Mr Cameron said he was nervous and there was "a lot riding" on the debate.

"It's a very important moment in the election and I want to try to get across how we can build a better, stronger economy, that's what it's really about - the future, how we get jobs going, how we get business going."

Meanwhile, the Labour Party say more economists have signed a letter opposing Conservative plans to find an extra £6bn cuts this year - bringing the total to 108.

'Fiscal austerity'

They say it could tip the economy back into recession. But the Tories say their plans are backed by more than 1,000 businesses and would allow them to avoid the bulk of Labour's planned National Insurance rise next year.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that all three of the biggest parties have not come "anywhere close" to making clear where they would make cuts to meet their targets on reducing the deficit.

And US economist David Hale told Australian television that Bank of England Governor Mervyn King had told him "whoever wins this election will be out of power for a whole generation because of how tough the fiscal austerity will have to be".

BBC economics correspondent Hugh Pym said the Bank of England said Mr King met Mr Hale in March - not last week as the report implied - and spoke to many economists but conversations were private.

On Wednesday, the Scottish National Party failed in a legal bid to stop the debate being broadcast in Scotland, if they were not represented. SNP leader Alex Salmond told the BBC it was "unfair to the SNP" and "unfair for Scotland".

The debate is on BBC One at 2030 BST, the BBC News website, BBC News Channel and Radio 4.

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