Knife-edge British poll goes down to the wire

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Party leaders criss-crossed Britain in a frantic final day of election campaigning Wednesday as they tried to win over undecided voters ahead of what is expected to be the closest ballot contest in years.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown played down suggestions from Labour cabinet ministers that its supporters should vote tactically for the Liberal Democrats to stop the main opposition Conservatives from taking power.

In the face of polls showing the Conservatives ahead in the race, Brown said the only way to guarantee the Tories did not return to office after a 13-year break was to vote for Labour on Thursday.

He made an early morning stop in a market in Leeds before travelling through northern England and Scotland.

Conservative leader David Cameron campaigned through the night, talking to fishermen, ambulance drivers and shift workers in marginal seats in northern England that the Tories must win to take back power.

Aides said the 24-hour blitz was Cameron's answer to his opponents' claim that he is complacent and was taking victory for granted.

"I never believed this election was going to be easy," Cameron told GMTV early Wednesday.

"I mean, elections are meant to be a challenge. The British people don't hand you the government of the country on a plate. Quite rightly, they are making us work for it," he said.

Nick Clegg, the leader of the third-biggest party, the Liberal Democrats, was making a last race for votes across England in Eastbourne, Durham and Sheffield.

The latest polls showed the Conservatives would win the most seats, but not enough to form a government on their own, leading to a hung parliament.

A ComRes poll for ITV News and The Independent newspaper showed no change on the previous day, with the Tories on 37 percent, Labour on 29 and the Liberal Democrats 26.

Some of Brown's cabinet colleagues took the unusual step Tuesday of calling on voters to choose the Liberal Democrats in seats where Labour had no chance.

Tactical voting in the marginal constituencies which will essentially decide the outcome of the election could keep the Conservatives out of power, figures including Education Minister Ed Balls suggested.

But Brown refused to advocate tactical voting.

"I am asking people to vote Labour because I want to get out the maximum Labour vote," he said in an interview with The Times.

Brown refused to be drawn on whether he would consider forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, saying: "I'm not going to talk about what happens after Thursday.

"The people are the boss. The people make decisions. No politician should be speculating about what the people are going to say."

Clegg, whose party's surprisingly strong performance has made the election so close, dismissed talk of tactical voting as "another sign of Labour's desperation."

His party has enjoyed a surge of support in the election campaign on the back of his performance in TV debates, and he is anxious to avoid tactical voting by his owns supporters, fearing it could dent his party's share of the popular vote.

This would damage his negotiating power in the event of a hung parliament, with commentators suggesting he could hold the balance of power.

In the latest celebrity endorsement, television and music mogul Simon Cowell backed Cameron, writing in The Sun: "I believe he is the prime minister Britain needs at this time.

"He has substance and the stomach to navigate us through difficult times."

© 2010 AFP

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