Amid uncertainty, Britain goes to polls on May 6

Both Labour and Conservatives may use President Obamas 2008 campaign techniques

Amid uncertainty, Britain goes to polls on May 6


Gordon Brown

The opposition Conservatives and the third major party, the Liberal Democrats, took immediate aim at Brown’s controversial leadership qualities, seen by many pundits as a potential liability for the governing Labour Party.

After a final meeting of his cabinet, Brown drove to Buckingham Palace to ask Queen Elizabeth II to dissolve Parliament — a ceremonial step at the start of a month of hectic and highly personalised campaigning that will decide whether Labour wins a fourth consecutive term in office or is forced to return power to the Conservatives after 13 years.

Going into the campaign, the Conservatives lead in all of the country’s major opinion polls. But the gap, varying from 4 to 10 percentage points, is considered to be too narrow and volatile to be a reliable indicator of the election outcome.

Because of the vagaries in the British election process, the Conservatives need a lead over Labour of about 7 percent to win even a wafer-thin majority in the 650-seat House of Commons. Anything less than that could produce a hung Parliament that could keep Labour in power.

After months of speculation that he would choose the May date — almost exactly five years after the last election in 2005, and only three weeks before the statutory expiration of the government’s term — Brown called the election date “the least well-kept secret” in British politics.

“A general election will take place on May 6,” Brown said, flanked by government ministers on the steps of 10 Downing Street. “I am asking you, the British people, for a clear and straightforward mandate”to tackle the country’s economic woes and to restore public trust in Britain’s scandal-damaged political institutions, he said. He also pledged support for British troops in Afghanistan.

With nearly 30 Labour ministers arrayed behind him, Brown acknowledged, at least indirectly, that his fragile popularity could weigh on Labour’s re-election hopes.
“I am not a team of one,” Brown, 59, said. “As anybody can see, I am one of a team.” By contrast, David Cameron, the Conservative leader, seemed eager to seek the election spotlight.

For his first campaign speech, Cameron, 43, chose a setting beside Westminster Bridge in Central London, on a sunny spring morning with a view of a the House of Commons across the Thames, and with Conservative election candidates and aides as an enthusiastic audience.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have made close studies of the campaign techniques used by President Obama in 2008, and they have taken on American political consultants to give behind-the-scenes advice. A hint of their influence came in Cameron’s remarks beside the Thames, when he stressed the importance of hope, one of Obama’s themes in 2008.

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