Thu, May 06, 2010
World > Europe > 2010 Britain's election

Party leaders in final push for votes

2010-05-06 00:14:09 GMT2010-05-06 08:14:09 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Britain's Conservative Party leader David Cameron addresses his final campaign rally in Bristol, southwest England, May 5, 2010. The voting of the British general elections will start at 7 a.m. local time on Thursday. (Xinhua/Zeng Yi)

Britain's Conservative Party leader David Cameron addresses his final campaign rally in Bristol, southwest England, May 5, 2010. The voting of the British general elections will start at 7 a.m. local time on Thursday. (Xinhua/Zeng Yi)

A supporter waves a placard during Conservative Party leader David Cameron's final campaign rally in Bristol, southwest England, May 5, 2010. The voting of the British general elections will start at 7 a.m. local time on Thursday. (Xinhua/Zeng Yi)

LONDON, May 5 (Xinhua) -- The British general election campaign entered its final 24 hours on Wednesday with all the three main parties' leaders working hard to attract as many votes as possible before the polls open at 7:00 a.m. local time on Thursday.

The main opposition Conservative party has been ahead in the polls throughout the campaign, but despite five weeks of efforts it does not look to have attracted enough support to form a government under Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system.

Conservative leader David Cameron sought to portray himself and his party as strong, active and ready for government with a spell of 36 hours of campaigning that began on Tuesday night and saw him visit nightworkers, like bakers and fishermen, across the country.

One of Cameron's campaign stops on Wednesday was in Wales, where he told voters, "we can build a better, stronger, fairer country if we win that election on Thursday.

"If you want to wake up to a new Government on Friday, with its sleeves rolled up, cleaning up the mess that has been left in our country, then vote Conservative."

Earlier he had tried to reassure voters that his party had compassion, a quality some older voters believe the party lacks after its performance in power during the 1980s and 1990s.

He said: "We will always protect the elderly, the frail, the vulnerable, the disadvantaged -- that's the kind of man I am, that 's the kind of prime minister I want to be."

Cameron's Conservatives look set to get the most votes and very probably the most seats in Thursday's election, under the first- past-the-post system. This traditional and simple system -- with 650 constituencies across the country and just one member of parliament returned for each one -- favors the two largest parties and especially favors the party that is already in power, regardless of which party that is.

For that reason, Cameron could win the election on votes by a wide margin but still find the ruling Labour party not far behind in numbers of seats in the next House of Commons. In that position Labour, as the ruling party, could have the first opportunity to form a government through negotiating a coalition.

Cameron feels that support is strong enough for him to at least form a minority government, one without a majority of members (MPs) in the House of Commons. However a late stiffening of his support could see his party win the election with just enough seats to form a majority government.

The ruling Labour party, under Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is trailing in the polls. Until only a few days ago it was even running behind to the traditional third party in British politics the Liberal Democrats.

Some support has returned to Brown as the election draws closer, but it is not enough to overhaul the Conservatives and a question mark still hangs over whether the party can secure second place. Labour has not placed third in a general election for nearly 90 years, and to do so now would be a disaster for it.

Brown is perceived to have had a poor campaign. He was beaten by the other two parties' leaders -- Conservative Cameron and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg -- in an historic, first-ever series of live TV debates throughout the campaign.

Viewers and commentators largely agreed that Brown's performance in all three debates, including the final one on his strong subject of economics, was weaker than the other two leaders.

Brown was aware of his failings and on Thursday said: "The novelty of television debates clouded the need for policy to be debated. We're making big choices about the NHS, schools and about jobs, industry and the economy.

"I feel we have not yet discussed sufficiently the risks to the economy in the future and the need for jobs to be secure."

Brown also committed what is perhaps the worst gaffe in British political history when in an unguarded moment he was caught on microphone labelling a 65-year-old woman he had met and talked with while campaigning "a bigoted woman."

The news quickly spread and Brown issued four apologies and spent over half an hour at the woman's house making a personal apology, but the damage could not be wished away.

Brown has concentrated since then on speaking to the core Labour vote and on shoring up the morale of the party faithful with attacks on the Conservatives and on appeals for voters not to switch to the other center left party, the Liberal Democrats

He continued this theme on Wednesday, saying in an interview with the BBC, "There is an anti-Tory majority but now is the moment to vote Labour. I ask you not to vote just for me, but to vote for your family, your future and to see Labour as your best hope.

"Ask yourself who will stand up for you. Who, when the economy is on the line will be your spokesman. Who will always put your standards of living first. Who will stand up for your family because they have walked in your shoes? I say in all humility, I will."

For the third party in British politics, the Liberal Democrats the campaign has seen their leader, and the party too, make a remarkable breakthrough in support, largely on the back of leader Clegg's spectacularly successful performance in the first of the live TV debates.

This pushed support for his party up by about 10 points, and it is only in the past few days that some of that support has begun to fade and move to the other parties as voters ask themselves if they want a hung parliament, one where no one party has a majority.

Regardless of that it has been a good campaign for the Liberal Democrats that has seen them become a stronger force than at any time in the past 90 years. They were consistently polling ahead of Labour during most of the campaign, and even now are tied neck and neck with them in some polls.

On Wednesday Clegg continued his campaign theme of attacking the other two parties as being the same old solution that had failed before.

Speaking in the south coast town of Eastbourne, Clegg said: "If David Cameron or Gordon Brown get into 10 Downing Street nothing, nothing, will really change at all. The banks will still be hoarding money rather than lending it to you. Our children will still not have the fair future they deserve, our tax system will still be unfair.

"Our political system will stilll remain unreformed. We cannot let that happen. Don't let anyone tell you that your vote doesn't count."

The result is too close to call. Cameron's Conservatives may or may not be strong enough to form a majority government on Friday morning.

If they are not, but they are close to it, Cameron has made it clear that he will form a minority government.

However, if the Conservatives do not poll as well as this, and if Labour manages to hang on to many of its seats, then the door could be open for Brown to seek an alliance with the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition government.

The asking price from the Liberal Democrats could be electoral reform, that would see the end of the first-past-the-post voting system that discriminates against all but the two largest parties. If that were to happen it would be the biggest change in British politics since the First World War and would herald a complete reshaping of the way the country governs itself.

The campaign, and especially the TV debates have gained more interest than expected, and turnout is likely to be higher than the 66 percent in the last general election in 2005. But far more people than usual are still, at this final stage, uncertain of who to vote for.

The 2010 election is highly unusual in British politics. It has largely been a three-horse campaign, and all elections since just after the First World War have been two-horse races, and it looks like producing an election rarity, a hung parliament.

That has not happened since February 1974, when a minority Labour government took control and then declared another election just eight months later in a bid for a stronger mandate.

This election could throw up a similar result this time, and there could well be another general election within a year. But right now, nobody can be sure of anything and Britain now waits for the polls to close at 10:00 p.m. local time on Thursday and for the final counting, and the final reckoning, to begin.

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