Brown challenged to name the date

As Gordon Brown puts the finishing touches to his first speech as leader to the Labour party conference, Menzies Campbell has challenged him to call an election.

The Liberal Democrat leader told the prime minister it was “time to stop dithering” and go to the polls.

He said the “continuous speculation” about the election date was bad for the economy, bad for the political process and bad for public confidence.

Sir Menzies said: “This unnecessary and destabilising guessing game is the most powerful argument yet for fixed-term four year parliaments, an idea which the Labour party enthusiastically backed in 1992.”

Despite the latest opinion polls putting the Liberal Democrats back on 14 per cent, Sir Menzies said his party was “ready and waiting” for a general election.

He said: “We welcome the chance to put our own radical and progressive policies to the electorate.”

After Mr Brown was appointed unopposed as Labour leader, Sir Menzies said the British people needed to be given a say on the Brown government.

In interviews ahead of his speech, Mr Brown has firmly refused to end speculation on an early election, sidestepping the question to claim he is getting on with the job in hand.

Speaking to the BBC, he said the media frenzy surrounding a possible poll election was “inner speculation” by a small group of people “interested in politics”.

Ed Balls backed up this line last night, telling a fringe event election guesswork was only interesting to the media or candidates.

The prime minister’s keynote speech to conference is expected to focus on crime, health and education.

Nevertheless, commentators say Mr Brown has a habit of surprise announcements, pointing to this year’s income tax cut and the U-turn on super casinos.