Britain's candidates campaigning furiously ahead of Thursday elections

By Dan Balz
Sunday, May 2, 2010; 5:33 PM

LONDON -- It was a day of rallying the base and peeling away supporters from the opposition as the leaders of the three major political parties in Britain campaigned furiously across the country on Sunday.

Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg, fighting to keep his party in the thick of the battle for the popular vote, went into Labor Party strongholds in the north of England to tell members that their party had abandoned them and that it was time to shift their allegiance.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on a 10-stop tour around London, declared himself in "a fight to the finish" and attacked the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Brown saved his toughest language for David Cameron's Conservative Party, which he said would wreck the economy and leave the country's most vulnerable people worse off.

He was dismissive of the Liberal Democrats, saying their platform is so flimsy that the policies were "either unaffordable or have been thought out at a dinner party and written on the back of a napkin."

But he denied that he had labeled Clegg as little more than a television game-show host rather than a substantial politician. He was quoted Sunday in an interview with the Observer newspaper as saying, "We're talking about the future of our country. We're not talking about who's going to be the next presenter of a TV game show. We're talking about the future of our economy."

Asked by reporters why he had given Clegg that label, Brown insisted, "I did not. I did not." He added, "I said this election was not about who was a game-show host but was about who was to be prime minister. I never talked about Nick Clegg at all in that way."

A slew of Liberal Democrat supporters staged a demonstration outside the pub where Brown was speaking, and the resulting engagement with Labor supporters forced Brown to find another exit to avoid walking through the crowd.

Cameron, still hoping to win an outright majority of the seats in the next Parliament, sought to reassure voters that he would not do what Brown charged, saying that if he is the next prime minister, "I'm going to make sure no one is left behind."

The latest polls in Britain continued to point toward a hung Parliament, meaning that no party would hold a majority of the seats. Support for the Liberal Democrats, which surged after Clegg's performance in the first of three candidate debates, appeared to soften, but polls painted a conflicting picture of the party that has shaken up the campaign.

A poll for the Sunday Telegraph, which backs Cameron's party, showed the Conservatives rising to 36 percent, Labor ticking up to 29 percent and the Liberal Democrats slipping to 27 percent. But a survey for the Guardian, which has endorsed the Liberal Democrats, showed a closer race, with the Conservatives at 33 percent and the two other parties at 28 percent. That was a slight decline for the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives need to boost their vote share closer to 40 percent before they can feel confident about the possibility of winning an outright majority. Meanwhile, Labor is fighting to avoid its worst showing since a humiliating loss in 1983.

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