British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will kick off a month-long general election campaign Tuesday, set to be a neck-and-neck race dominated by the country's recession-hit economy.
Brown visits Queen Elizabeth II to dissolve parliament and officially fire the starting gun on the campaign which will culminate in a May 6 vote, a government source confirmed speaking on condition of anonymity.
Campaigning has already been under way for some weeks, but the official announcement of the election date will sharpen the fight in a contest in which the opposition Conservatives are bidding to return to power after 13 years.
The centre-right party led by David Cameron had established a commanding lead over Brown's centre-left Labour Party in opinion polls only to see it melt away in recent weeks, raising the prospect of a hung parliament.
Several polls in recent days however indicated the Conservatives had re-established enough of a lead to give them a narrow majority in the House of Commons and make the telegenic, 43-year-old Cameron prime minister.
A survey for the Express newspaper Monday gave the Tories a commanding 10-point lead, which would probably give them a majority in the Commons.
But in a sign of how unpredictable the vote could still be, a poll for the Guardian newspaper the same day showed Labour closing the gap, just four points behind Cameron's party.
A key battleground in the ballot will be Britain's economy. The country has just edged out of its longest recession on record, but some economists still fear a possible "double dip" back into the red.
Labour will make economic recovery a focus, with Brown kicking off his campaign with a warning to voters that Conservative policies could return the country to recession.
"The people of this country have fought too hard to get Britain on the road to recovery to allow anybody to take us back on the road to recession," the prime minister will say after announcing the election date.
A Conservative victory would throw away all the work done by Labour, he warned in an interview with the Daily Mirror on the eve of his election announcement.
Labour had "come so far in taking Britain out of recession," he said.
"Do we throw this away now?"
The party argues that cuts to public spending should be delayed for fear of tipping Britain back into recession, while the Tories have argued they should begin immediately.
Brown, 59, is fighting his first general election as prime minister, having only taken over from Tony Blair in June 2007, just as the global financial crisis was brewing.
In a speech after the prime minister announces the election date, Cameron will set out the Conservatives' position.
"We're fighting this election for the Great Ignored - young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight," he will say.
The winners of the election will have the dubious prize of having to tackle a crippling budget deficit of at least 167 billion pounds (254 billion dollars, 188 billion euros).
With cuts to public services inevitable, Labour, the Conservatives and the third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats, are competing to win voters' support as the safest pair of hands on the economy.