LONDON (Reuters) – Four new polls yesterday reinforced the Conservative party’s momentum just five days before Britain’s closely fought parliamentary election, which increasingly looks set to end Labour’s 13-year rule.
Party leaders toured the country as they ramped up their campaigns ahead of Thursday’s vote, raising cheers and confronting hecklers at venues including a doctor’s surgery, a glass factory and a supermarket.
“Energy, energy, energy, I’m going to be getting right round the country, the whole way round the United Kingdom, making clear the choice of the election,” Conser-vative leader David Cameron told Sky News about his party’s campaign strategy.
Most opinion polls have shown Britain on course for its first parliament with no overall majority since 1974, and four new polls appearing in Sunday newspapers put the Conservatives ahead, with one showing the party just short of a majority.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he paid a heavy price for calling a supporter of his Labour party “bigoted” on Wednesday when he forgot he was wearing a microphone, and yesterday two key UK newspapers withdrew support for his party.
In an interview in Sunday’s Observer newspaper, Brown describes Labour as the “underdog.”
By contrast, Cameron has gained momentum since his performance in a televised leaders’ debate on Thursday, but that may not be enough to ensure his party wins an outright majority.
Opinion polls have long put the Conservatives in the lead, but not by enough to avoid an inconclusive outcome, or so-called hung parliament. Support for the Liberal Democrats surged after leader Nick Clegg gave polished performances in three US-style televised debates.
The Conservatives warn voters that a hung parliament would harm Britain’s economy by not giving them a strong enough mandate to take decisive action to tackle the country’s record budget deficit, now running at more than 11 percent of GDP.
Cameron’s party wants to cut spending soon after the ballot, but Labour and the Liberal Democrats, or Lib Dems, want to delay cuts until a tentative economic recovery has taken root.
The Liberal Democrats may have the balance of power in the case of a hung parliament, having jumped ahead of Labour in some opinion polls. Clegg now says the election is a two-horse race between himself and the Conservatives’ Cameron.
“We are now certainly campaigning hard in more seats, scores and scores more seats than we ever have done since the Liberal Democrats became a party … I think the sky’s the limit to an election where all bets are off,” he told BBC news. In the four latest opinion soundings, a ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror and Independent on Sunday newspapers put the Conservatives 10 points ahead of second-placed Labour, which it said left Cameron’s party 11 seats short of a majority.
An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper put the Conservatives at 36 per cent, ahead of Labour at 29 per cent and the Lib Dems on 27 per cent, while a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times put the Conservatives at 35 per cent and the Lib Dems in second place with 28 per cent.
An ICM poll for the News of the World newspaper of marginal constituencies where Labour has a slim majority tied Labour and Conservative support at 35 per cent, which the pollster said could give Cameron’s party 113 more parliamentary seats. Clegg has refused to be drawn on who he may ally with in a hung parliament. He has rejected working with Brown but points to ideological differences with the centre-right Conservatives.