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Uphill battle for Downing St

The shadow of a messy hung parliament loomed over the tidy rituals of a British general election as Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday sought the dissolution of parliament and fixed May 6 for the next polls.

world Updated: Apr 07, 2010 00:29 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

The shadow of a messy hung parliament loomed over the tidy rituals of a British general election as Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday sought the dissolution of parliament and fixed May 6 for the next polls.

Brown called on Queen Elizabeth II to recommend the dissolution of parliament and set in motion the process of ‘prorogation’ — the wash-up period between two parliaments — as Britain’s three main political parties prepared to join what are expected to be the fiercest race for power in decades.

All three parties — ruling Labour and the opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats — face the daunting task of convincing Britons to show up on polling day in a country that has been bruised by its worst and deepest recession, alongside a festering 2009 scandal over MPs’ parliamentary expense claims.

Brown set the tone of the campaign on Tuesday by declaring before a cynical nation: “I come from an ordinary and middle class family from an ordinary town. Britain is on the road to (economic) recovery and nothing we do should put that recovery at risk.”

Conservative leader David Cameron said in a similar vein: “We’re fighting this election for the Great Ignored — young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight… They’re good, decent people — they’re the people of Britain and they just want a reason to believe that anything is still possible in our country.”

But ominously, Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrat party could hold the key to power in the event of a hung parliament, added: “This is not a two-horse race. This is a choice between the old politics of the two old parties and something new, something different, which the Liberal Democrats offer.”

A number of British psephologists, political scientists and pollsters have pointed to an average of recent opinion polls to predict a rare hung parliament in Britain.

The two main factors they cite are growing voter disillusionment with politicians – turnout on May 6 is forecast to be even lower than the 2005 record low of 62 per cent — and the massive task facing the Conservatives in their attempt to overturn the current Labour majority.

“A hung parliament will be the most disastrous outcome of the forthcoming election,” Conservative frontbencher and former British finance minister Kenneth Clarke told the HT.

“I think it is highly unlikely that Labour will return, but a hung parliament is a bit of a risk.”