LONDON Gordon Brown dismissed calls on Wednesday for an early election in response to public fury over lawmakers' expenses, saying reform would do more good than the "chaos" of a vote during a recession.
The prime minister, trailing badly in opinion polls before a parliamentary election due by June 2010, said his government's priority must be to fix an economy battered by a recession, the worst since World War Two.
The Conservative Party, surging far ahead in opinion polls, has repeatedly urged Brown to call a snap election to allow voters to pass judgement on a scandal that has badly tarnished the "Mother of Parliaments."
"Do you really want to see tomorrow, in the midst of the recession, while the government is dealing with this, the chaos of an election?" Brown told GMTV.
Pressed later in parliament by Conservative leader David Cameron to explain what he meant by "chaos," Brown said: "What would cause chaos is if a Conservative government were elected."
To roars of approval from his supporters and boos from Labour members, Cameron said Brown's comment was "the first admission that he thinks he is going to lose."
Cameron, who says an early election is the only way to give politics a fresh start, added: "In the U.S. they had an election in the middle of a banking crisis. Was that chaos?"
However, the expenses scandal claimed a Conservative victim on Wednesday when senior MP Sir Peter Viggers agreed to retire at the next election after the Daily Telegraph newspaper published details of his expenses claims.
"As a result of information brought to the attention of the Conservative Party by the Daily Telegraph today, Sir Peter Viggers has confirmed that he will retire as MP for Gosport at the next election," a Conservative Party spokesman said.
"He will do so at the direct request of David Cameron."
MPs have triggered outrage by claiming taxpayers' money for everything from pet food and bath plugs to tennis court repairs and watching pornographic films.
The whiff of sleaze spread to the House of Lords on Wednesday when two members of the ruling Labour Party were suspended for offering to amend laws in exchange for money. It was the first time any member of the upper house had been excluded for more than 350 years.
Peter Truscott, a former energy minister, and Thomas Taylor will be suspended until the autumn when the current session of parliament ends.
With trust in politicians from both houses at rock bottom, the government is rushing through reforms to the expenses system that will see an independent body checking expenses claims, ending parliament's long tradition of self-regulation.
Politicians will no longer be able to claim public money for furniture and appliances, home improvements and gardening.
They will also be prevented from changing the designation of their second home -- a practice known as "flipping" -- to take full advantage of a 24,000 pounds annual allowance to cover the cost of running a second home.
The government will learn on June 4, the date for local and European elections, whether the interim measures have done enough to appease voters.
Analysts say fringe parties, such as the British National Party and Greens, will get a boost on June 4 as voters punish the big parties over the scandal.
The controversy has hurt all major parties, but particularly the Labour party, in power for 12 years. A poll in the Daily Telegraph this week gave the Conservatives a 16 point lead over Labour. A second poll of Labour activists suggested six out of 10 want Brown to quit before the next parliamentary election.
If Labour do badly in the June poll it could spark a challenge to Brown's Labour's leadership and raise pressure on him to bring forward the parliamentary election.
Parliamentary Speaker Michael Martin, the most senior official in the lower house, said on Tuesday he would step down, the first speaker to be ousted in more than 300 years.
Senior Conservative MP Alan Duncan told Sky News that the country had gone through "almost a sort of spring revolution over the last few weeks."