LONDON — It wasn’t quite a debate, but back-to-back live televised interviews of Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband were billed Thursday as the unofficial campaign kickoff six weeks before Britain’s general election.
The two did not share a stage or confront each other directly, but each made vigorous bids for support, and Miliband said he believes he can win an outright majority in the May 7 vote, which is expected to be very close.
Cameron, whose elite background troubles some voters, denied he is too cozy with the rich, and Miliband said he is not worried about his oft-maligned image.
He rebutted the suggestion that his brother, former foreign secretary David Miliband, would have made a stronger candidate and fought back when prominent TV journalist Jeremy Paxman said voters think he is a “north London geek” who isn’t tough enough to lead the nation.
“Am I tough enough? Hell yes,” said Miliband, who boasted of standing up to President Obama by refusing to back a bombing campaign against Syria.
Conservative leader Cameron was the first on stage. He defended his performance and urged voters to back him if they wanted a future referendum on whether Britain should remain part of the European Union, which he has promised by 2017 if reelected.
He said membership has brought Britain some benefits but that the country needs “a new deal” with the EU.
Facing softer questions from the studio audience, Cameron presented himself as a cheerful, congenial family man, telling stories about his young children and promising to do more to help the elderly and the disabled.
They are the leading contenders in the May 7 general election, but other parties are expected to play a major role. A formal televised debate is set for next week, with other party leaders scheduled to participate.