British parties jostle as vote polls point to hung parliament

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The leader of likely kingmakers in Britain's May 6 election the Liberal Democrats warned Sunday he would not prop up a wounded Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as polls point to a hung parliament.

Nick Clegg's centrist Liberal Democrats, who have surged from third to second place in opinion polls after he performed strongly in TV debates, are unlikely to win enough votes to form a government after the tight battle.

They could, however, hold the balance of power in a hung parliament -- where no party wins an overall majority, not seen since 1974 -- and team up with Labour or the Conservatives to govern.

The Liberal Democrats have never said which party they would work with in the event of a hung parliament although Clegg has said the party with the strongest "mandate" should be allowed a shot at government.

But in a clear message to Brown Sunday, Clegg warned the premier's Labour party, in power for 13 years, that he would not support them if they dropped to third place in the general election.

"It is just preposterous the idea that if a party comes third in the number of votes, it still has somehow the right to carry on squatting in Number Ten (Downing Street)," he told the BBC.

"I think a party which has come third -- and so millions of people have decided to abandon them -- has lost the election spectacularly (and) cannot then lay claim to providing the prime minister of this country."

Clegg also told the Sunday Times that Labour was "increasingly irrelevant".

He spoke as opinion polls reinforced the trend of recent weeks, showing the centre-right Conservatives in the lead but without enough support to win an outright majority.

A YouGov survey in the Sunday Times put the Tories on 35 percent, a rise of two points, with the Liberal Democrats down one on 28 percent and Labour down three on 27 percent.

The YouGov poll in Monday's edition of The Sun -- which is publishing a survey every day in the run-up to the election -- showed the Tories unchanged on 34 percent, the Lib Dems up one on 30 percent and Labour down one on 28 percent.

Conservative leader David Cameron said he would not support the Liberal Democrats' top demand -- reforming the voting system -- sending a signal that the two parties would find it hard to work together, although he did not rule that out.

"I want us to keep the current system that enables you to throw a government out of office. That is my view," he told the Observer newspaper. Home Secretary Alan Johnson meanwhile told the BBC Sunday that "after the election there will be a debate on proportional representation on the electoral system," sparking speculation that he was making an overture to the Lib Dems.

But Johnson -- who has been touted as a possible successor to Brown if Labour lose the election -- insisted he was not "waving the flag" at the Lib Dems to signal he would be prepared to do a deal on voting reform to secure a coalition government.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, seen as Brown's de facto deputy, warned supporters of centre-left Labour who were thinking of switching to the Liberal Democrats that doing so could let in Cameron.

"You might start flirting with Nick Clegg, but that way you will end up marrying David Cameron," he told the Sunday Mirror.

Disillusioned Labour voters in Britain sometimes back the Liberal Democrats in protest as both are seen as progressive parties.

© 2010 AFP

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