UK parties eye social issues to break poll deadlock

Britain’s main political parties turned their focus to crime, health and childcare on Tuesday as they tried to pull ahead of their rivals in the country’s tightest general election in decades.

Polls point to no conclusive winners and a “hung Parliament” after the May 6 ballot, the first such election outcome in the United Kingdom since 1974, and a result the ruling Labour party and main rivals the Conservatives are desperate to avoid.

But such an outcome would be a boon for Britain’s smaller and long-overshadowed Liberal Democrats, or Lib Dems, whose support could be pivotal in forming a new government.

Party spokespersons took to the airwaves early on Tuesday to tout their policies on health, education and crime, with David Cameron, leader of the centre-right Conservatives, expected to speak later on Britain’s “broken society”. The party believes more social cohesion can reduce crime.

Nick Clegg, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, is expected to speak about Britain’s state National Health Service, which all parties are promising to protect from spending cuts needed to cut a record budget deficit.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leader of the centre-left Labour Party, which has been in power since 1997, will speak about children’s services.

Options for Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives have consistently led in the polls, but their lead has shrunk in recent months. In the last 12 days it has been threatened by a surge in support for the Liberal Democrats after Clegg’s strong performance in televised debates.

Cameron’s party is set to launch a TV campaign urging voters to give them a decisive victory to avoid a hung Parliament, where no party holds a majority. They say this would unnerve financial markets, which want urgent action to cut the budget deficit, running at more than 11% of GDP.

The Lib Dems have labelled the campaign scare-mongering and welcome a coalition government if the ballot is inconclusive, but the question of who they would join has been controversial.

The Lib Dems — who have jumped into second from third place in most polls in recent days — and Labour are traditionally seen as more natural bedfellows, but weekend comments from Clegg suggested he would reject Labour if they came third.

Media reports on Tuesday said Clegg was referring to not working with Brown, rather than ruling out alliances with his party outright. — Reuters

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