Gordon Brown promised today to serve a full five years in office if he leads Labour to a fourth term on May 6.
The Prime Minister committed himself to serving out a full term for the first time in a BBC interview otherwise dominated by an increasingly bitter row with big business over Labour's planned increases in national insurance contributions.
Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, who is regarded as Mr Brown's de facto deputy, had suggested in an interview with The Times that Mr Brown might decide to step down early – three or four years into the next parliament – after the economic recovery had been secured.
But Mr Brown told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I’ll be standing for the next five years."
When it was put to him that Tony Blair had promised to serve a full third term at the 2005 general election only to retire two years later, Mr Brown repeated: “Five more years."
From a political point of view Mr Brown had no choice but to give that commitment to avoid going to the country already labelled a lame duck prime minister, but he self-consiously chose to use the phrase David Cameron has been employing in the campaign so far – "five more years of Gordon Brown".
The Conservatives regard the statement as one of their most persuasive arguments.
Earlier, on the same programme, one of the country's best-known retailers had accused the Prime Minister of insulting the collective intelligence of British business.
Sir Stuart Rose, executive chairman of Marks & Spencer and a member of the Prime Minister’s business council, hit out after Mr Brown claimed that business leaders had been “deceived” over Labour’s planned rise in national insurance.
The bosses of more than 60 top companies have backed the Tories’ opposition to the rise in an intense political row that has so far dominated the election debate and fed into a wider debate on post-election spending.
Mr Brown suggested yesterday that business leaders had been “deceived” by the Tories.
Sir Stuart, who signed a letter last week criticising the rise in national insurance contributions, said: “It’s unfortunate that we have been dismissed. This is an important argument and to insult the collective intelligence of 60-plus chief executives is unhelpful.
“This is not a political point so much as a point about where tax should be levied. Everybody knows that the country needs to sort itself out and this was a serious attempt to have a voice on the subject.”
Mr Brown claims Tory plans to scrap the bulk of the national insurance rise pencilled in for next April would take £6 billion out of the economy – money which the Tories say they can recover in Whitehall efficiency savings.
Sir Stuart’s comments come as Mr Brown steps up his attack on the Tories over national insurance in the belief that Labour can benefit from the debate about tax and spending.
Another of the signatories of the letter, Luke Johnson, founder of Risk Capital Partners, also described Mr Brown’s remarks as “insulting”.
Sir Stuart said that, as a retailer, he would not vote for VAT going up as an alternative, but as a UK citizen he would accept it as “something we need to do”.
But he said that the business leaders were making a bigger point about the need to reduce government waste in the same way that the private sector had been forced to do in the past couple of years.
“I think the thing that’s been missed here partly, is that one of the things that was in the letter that I signed, and many other people signed, is that there is a huge opportunity to reduce waste in government,” he said.
“Businesses over the last 18 or 24 months have worked very hard to cut their own costs to be efficient.
“Is government efficient? Can waste be taken out of government? That’s one of the points in the letter that has been missed. I think there’s a great opportunity there and I think it’s one that should be grasped.”
Sir Stuart denied that he had been offered a job and a peerage by the Tory leader David Cameron. Asked if he would take them, if offered, he added: “Absolutely not.”
Mr Cameron strongly defended his plan to reverse most of the national insurance rise, funded by government effiency savings. “We are coming out of recession, the economy is starting to grow, the very craziest thing to do right now would be to put an extra tax on every job in the country,” he told GMTV.
“What Gordon Brown has said is that he has identified £11 billion of waste, but he doesn’t want to do anything about it until next year. We think that is mad. Why not cut the waste this year to stop the taxes?”