/ 17 April 2010

UK’s ruling Labour Party pushed into third place

Britain’s ruling Labour Party was pushed into third place by the Liberal Democrats after the country’s first televised leaders’ debate, the latest opinion poll showed on Friday.

The daily Sun/YouGov poll showed support for Labour down three points at 28%, the Liberal Democrats up eight points on 30% and the main opposition Conservatives down four points on 33%.

The poll was a boost for Britain’s third biggest political party and its leader Nick Clegg, ahead of the May 6 parliamentary election.

It followed a well-received performance by Clegg in Thursday’s historic live debate, in which the 43-year-old was perceived by voters and commentators to have emerged better than Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron with a relaxed and confident appearance.

If the latest poll were applied nationally, Labour would be the largest party, but it would fall short of a majority under Britain’s simple majority electoral system.

A hung Parliament, in which no party has an overall majority, is the least desired outcome for markets concerned about tackling the country’s record budget deficit.

Crucial moment in campaign
More than 10-million people tuned in to at least part of Thursday’s 90-minute debate, an important moment in the campaign.

Cameron’s party has been ahead in the polls for months but its lead over Labour has narrowed since January. He was expected to do well in the debate because of his ability as an orator, often delivering speeches without notes.

However, he was overshadowed by Clegg and observers suggested, even before the poll was published, that he would have to be more critical of the Liberal Democrats’ policies in the next two televised debates, on international affairs and the economy, if he was to end Labour’s 13 years in power.

The centrist Liberal Democrats have pressed for tough action to break up banks and have called for a 10% levy on banking profits and tax breaks for the poorest. Sterling weakened on Friday at the prospect that more voters might be tempted to vote for them.

It followed a ComRes survey for ITV News that put the Liberal Democrats on 24%, its highest score in such a poll since the last election in 2005, but still behind Labour and the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats, the party of World War I leader David Lloyd George, are perennially relegated to third place in British elections because its voting system favours the two larger parties. – Reuters