BRITAIN went to the polls on Thursday in a general election expected to be the closest in decades which, for the first time in more than 30 years, could fail to produce a clear winner.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, opposition Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat chief Nick Clegg topped off a month of campaigning on Wednesday, rushing round the country to win over undecided voters.
Opinion polls on the eve of the election gave the Conservatives a clear lead over Brown’s Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.
But they indicated Cameron’s party would not secure enough votes to form a government alone and easily eject Labour from power after 13 years.
This would result in a hung parliament – where no one party has enough seats in the House of Commons to form a government alone – for the first time since 1974.
On a hectic final day of campaigning, Cameron undertook a gruelling tour on his bus that carried him from Scotland to his final rally in Bristol, southwest England.
“Get out tomorrow. Vote for change. Vote Conservative,” he told a cheering crowd.
“Vote to give this country the hope, the optimism and the change we need. Together we can build a better, stronger country.”
Brown travelled to his native Scotland and issued a last-ditch plea to wavering voters to back Labour as the best party to safeguard the country’s fragile recovery from a deep recession.
“At this moment of risk to our economy, at this moment of decision for our country, I ask you to come home to Labour,” he urged a crowd in Dumfries, in the southwest of the country.
Britain is struggling to recover from its worst economic downturn since the 1930s and Brown – a former finance minister – has talked up his economic credentials throughout the election race.
Clegg urged voters to back him and seize a “once in a generation opportunity to do things differently,” on one of his last campaign stops in Durham, northeast England.
“If you give us a chance, if you trust us with your vote, I promise I will do everything I can to make things better for good, to deliver the fairer Britain you want,” he said.
Clegg’s party transformed the poll battle into a three-horse race after his assured performance in Britain’s first ever pre-election TV debates.
The Lib Dems won a surge of support on the back of his performance, for a while at least propelling them out of their traditional third position into second position ahead of Labour in many surveys.
The party’s support among the public appeared to be fading in the final stages of the election race, however.
The final newspaper polls Wednesday gave the Conservatives between 35 and 37 percent support, which represented a clear lead but would still result in a hung parliament.
Labour were vying to hold onto second place with the Lib Dems. The governing party scored between 28 and 29 percent of the vote, with the Lib Dems on 26 to 28 percent.
Britain’s press voiced support for its parties of choice in a series of front-page editorials on Thursday.
The Conservative-supporting Sun newspaper declared “Our only hope” under a picture of David Cameron.
The Mirror, which backs Labour, showed a picture of Cameron during his days at Oxford University, and urged: “Don’t Let Cam Con You… Vote Labour.”