Brown braced for final TV rap

LONDON - Prime Minister Gordon Brown was braced for a final TV debate last night before Britain's May 6 elections, reeling from criticism over his dismissal of an elderly widow as "bigoted".

The last of three televised contests with Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg focuses on the economy, an issue on which former finance minister Brown would be expected to do well.

But the widespread condemnation of his remarks on Wednesday about 66-year-old Gillian Duffy has piled the pressure on the prime minister and his Labour Party, already trailing in second and even third place in the polls.

Brown apologised in person to Duffy after being overheard on a microphone dismissing her as a "bigoted woman" following a routine campaign encounter in which she asked questions about immigration, tax and the deficit. But opponents and the press poured scorn on his reaction, with the left-wing Guardian describing it as "the political catastrophe of the 2010 campaign".

"This was the authentic Gordon Brown - thin-skinned, paranoid and perpetually on the hunt for someone else to blame," blasted the right-wing Sun.

Brown's wife Sarah told the Daily Mirror: "His apology was from the heart." - Sapa-AFP