London: Britain’s party leaders criss-crossed the country making a final push for votes in the last day of campaigning before Thursday’s parliamentary election as two opinion polls pointed to an inconclusive result.
One poll indicated that Labour, in power since 1997 but battered by recession and public anger over a parliamentary expenses scandal that has tainted all the main parties, could still win the greatest number of seats.
Conservative leader David Cameron campaigned through the night and Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an early visit on Wednesday morning to market workers in northern England to court the one-third of voters said still to be undecided.
“This is the most important election in a generation and I didn’t want to waste any hours in the last day and a bit to get out there and persuade people of the need for change,” Cameron told GMTV.
A YouGov poll for the Sun newspaper suggested the centre-right Conservatives’ momentum had stalled, putting them unchanged on 35%, while centre-left Labour rose to 30%.
The Liberal Democrats, who had been enjoying a strong rise in support on the back of a higher profile for their telegenic leader Nick Clegg, fell four points to 24 percent.
The quirks of the British electoral system, in which voters elect a member of parliament from their local constituency, mean that these figures would allow Labour to remain the biggest party, but short of a majority in parliament.
“I’m fighting to win,” Brown told BBC Radio, insisting he was still campaigning to secure a majority. “I’m a fighter and I don’t give up.”
A ComRes poll for the Independent newspaper put support for the parties unchanged, with the Conservatives 8 points ahead of Labour, making David Cameron’s opposition party the largest in a 650-seat parliament, but denying him outright control.
Both polls suggest a “hung parliament”, in which the centrist Liberal Democrats could hold the balance of power.
Britain has not had an inconclusive election of this kind since 1974 and is not used to the kind of coalition-building familiar to many countries in continental Europe.
Two senior Lib Dem party members said on Wednesday they would work constructively with whoever the British public decided should lead the country.
But they reiterated their view that they could not support a party that won the most seats despite coming third in votes.
“We would be willing to talk to other parties, depending on how people vote,” Lib Dem finance spokesman Vince Cable told BBC radio.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which is expected to win at least nine seats, is willing to enter a formal coalition with the Conservatives if they fail to win an overall majority, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.
The paper said the DUP would require Cameron to protect the region from this year’s public spending cuts. Conservative schools spokesman Michael Gove denied any deal had been done, saying the party was campaigning for an outright win.
Markets have been wary of political deadlock complicating efforts to cut a record deficit, running at more than 11 percent of GDP. But the consensus is shifting to a view that an inconclusive election is not such a bad thing if a government can be formed quickly and a budget passed.
European Economic and Monetary Affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said on Wednesday that whoever forms the government, the first thing they must do is agree a convincing and ambitious fiscal consolidation plan.
Two mass-circulation newspapers said a “hung parliament” would make it harder to solve Britain’s economic woes, backing the Conservatives for their commitment to cut the deficit faster than Labour would.
The Daily Express said Cameron had earned the right to govern, and that his Conservative party needed a clear mandate to “get Britain going in the right direction again”.
The Daily Mail backed Cameron’s commitment to a smaller state and cutting public spending rapidly, saying Britain needed a decisive government to avoid a Greek-style crisis.
British TV personality and music producer Simon Cowell also backed the Conservatives. Writing in the Sun newspaper, he said tackling the national debt as soon as possible was vital and delaying the pain for future generations would be “suicidal”.
The Independent newspaper came out in favour of the Lib Dems, supporting their stance on electoral reform. It said that, in Conservative/Labour swing seats, people should consider voting Labour to keep the Conservatives out.