Final push in Britain's knife-edge election
The Conservatives and Labour launched their final push on Monday to woo voters ahead of this week's British general election, as potential kingmaker parties marked out their territory.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband kicked off the final three days of campaigning with stark messages to voters about the choice they face.
With polls showing the two main parties neck-and-neck and unlikely to win a majority, the race to take Downing Street will likely hinge on smaller parties such as the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats.
"It's the start of a week when Britain will decide its future. By Friday you'll either have Ed Miliband or me as your prime minister," Cameron said.
"It's that simple -- an inescapable choice: me leading a strong and stable government, or with him: the chaos of being held to ransom by the SNP.
"Your vote can and will make a difference. It's that's close."
- Tablet of stone -
Miliband said the election was a "clash of two visions" about wages, health and young people.
He tried to hang the election battle on contrasting plans for the state-funded National Health Service.
"In the final few days of this general election, the future of the NHS is at risk in the way it hasn't been for a generation," he said.
"There is no bigger choice at this election than the future direction of our NHS, the bedrock of security for so many working people in our country."
He took the unprecedented step of having his six election pledges carved on a 2.6-metre (8.5-foot) high tablet of stone, sparking much mockery in Monday's newspapers.
On social media, the stunt was ridiculed as Miliband's "Moses moment" and spawned imitations such as a shopping list for the leader's household.
He hopes to erect the monument, which includes the stipulations "action on rents" and "an NHS with the time to care", in the garden of Downing Street.
If Thursday's vote results in a hung parliament, it could trigger days, if not weeks, of tricky negotiations as political parties try to come up with an arrangement for forming a stable government.
That could mean deals with smaller parties in exchange for agreeing to their manifesto pledges, or even coalition agreements.
The latest BBC poll of polls out Saturday gave the centre-right Conservatives 34 percent and centre-left Labour 33 percent.
The populist UK Independence Party were on 14 percent, the centrist Liberal Democrats eight percent, the left-wing Greens on five percent and others on six percent.
These figures would leave both major parties well short of winning the 326 seats needed for an absolute majority in parliament's lower House of Commons.
- 'Kingmakers' stand their ground -
The Liberal Democrats, led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, have spent the past five years as the junior partners to the Conservatives in the governing coalition.
They are pitching themselves as mainstream potential coalition partners that would anchor either major party in the centre ground.
"The Liberal Democrats are now the only guarantors of stability in British politics today," Clegg said on the campaign trail.
"Everybody knows that the Conservatives and the Labour Party, despite whatever David Cameron and Ed Miliband might say bravely in public, they all know that they're actually not going to win a majority.
"So the question is... who's going to be there alongside them?"
The Conservatives are the odds-on favourites to win the most seats.
However, bookmakers say Cameron is no more likely than Miliband to be prime minister, because smaller, left-wing parties would nominally prefer Labour in government.
Miliband has ruled out striking a formal coalition or deal with the left-wing secessionist SNP, who opinion polls predict will form the third-biggest bloc, winning many Scottish seats at Labour's expense.
But he refused to say Monday if Labour could form a legitimate government with fewer seats than the Conservatives.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said they would seek to use their "clout" in parliament to exert maximum influence on a Labour government.
"It is about giving Scotland the power and the voice at Westminster that we need," she said.
© 2015 AFP