LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Conservatives held their lead in the tightest election race in nearly 20 years after a close-fought second live TV debate, although the vote is likely to end in a stalemate, polls suggested on Saturday.
The opposition party, ahead of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s third-placed Labour, lacks the support needed to guarantee a return to power after 13 years at the May 6 vote.
That raises the prospect of a “hung parliament,” with no single party in control, for the first time in Britain since the days of the global oil crisis in 1974.
A second U.S.-style live televised leaders’ debate on Thursday confirmed the election is now a three-horse race after the leader of the normally third-placed Liberal Democrats cemented his newfound popular support.
A Harris survey for the Daily Mail newspaper gave David Cameron’s Conservatives a five-point lead on 34 percent, up three points since Monday, with Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems down one on 29. Center-left Labour were unchanged on 26.
A second poll by YouGov, in the Sun newspaper, had the center-right Conservatives steady on 34, with the Liberal Democrats up one on 29, level with Labour, unchanged from the day before.
The quirks of the British system mean that could leave Labour as the biggest party in a hung parliament, with 282 of the 650 seats, compared to the Conservatives’ 251, according to the BBC website’s election calculator. The Lib Dems may hold the balance of power because no party would secure the 326 seat majority.
With Britain slowly emerging from the worst recession since World War Two, polls say the economy is far and away the voters’ biggest concern and the issue has dominated the campaign.
Brown’s center-left Labour said Friday’s lower-than-expected GDP figures reinforced their argument that it is too early to make cuts to tackle a record budget deficit.
The Conservatives want to cut the deficit, running at more than 11 percent of GDP, more quickly and deeply than Labour and think public spending has grown out of control.
“We have got to see a faster growing private sector, we need manufacturing industry to get going again, we have got to broaden our economic base,” Cameron said in a BBC interview.
Labour’s chief secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne accused Cameron of failing to give details of planned spending cuts.
“(It) sounds more and more like the same old Tories: tax cuts for the few at the expense of cuts to essential services and to our regions,” he said in response to the interview.
Under pressure to claw back support from the Lib Dems, Foreign Secretary David Miliband accused the resurgent party of peddling “anti-politics” to woo voters fed up with politicians after a parliamentary expenses scandal.
“There is a market for anti-politics...but it is not a basis for running the country,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
Reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Michael Roddy