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Cameron Targets More Labour Districts as Conservatives Woo Clegg Backers

Conservative David Cameron switched the focus of his election campaign to districts held by Gordon Brown’s Labour Party, reflecting the way a surge in support for the Liberal Democrats has made it harder for him to win power.

The Liberal Democrats’ poll ratings have climbed since their leader, Nick Clegg, won the first televised leaders’ debate on April 15. Of 27 surveys completed since then, 21 have put his party in second place, ahead of Labour, and pointing to a House of Commons where no bloc has a majority. That makes it more difficult for the Conservatives to win Liberal Democrat seats they had previously been targeting.

“We are aiming for a majority government, we believe that’s doable,” Cameron told a news conference in London today before he set off to campaign in Southampton on England’s south coast. “That’s why we have extended our battleground.” He appealed to people thinking about voting for the Liberal Democrats to reconsider, saying that only a single-party Conservative administration could deliver real change.

The Conservatives must gain 117 districts in the May 6 elections to win a majority in the House of Commons. Both Cameron and Brown are making trips today to Southampton, where Labour holds two seats the Conservatives had previously considered too hard to win. Cameron said that with Clegg’s rise taking support from Brown, such district were now winnable.

At least 20 of the seats the Conservatives were previously aiming to take are held by the Liberal Democrats.

10-Point Lead

The electoral system means Labour might still win the largest number of seats in Parliament even if it finishes third in vote share. The uneven distribution of party support across the country means the Conservatives need at least a 10 percentage-point lead over Labour to be sure of gaining a majority of seats.

A YouGov Plc poll of 1,466 people in today’s Sun newspaper put the Conservatives at 34 percent, the Liberal Democrats at 30 percent and Labour at 28 percent. No margin of error was given.     “Whether you’ve been a Lib Dem voter or a Labour voter or a Green voter, if you care about the environment, if you want action to improve your quality of life, if you care about civil liberties, if you care about people power, if you want a clean break from the past -- vote Conservative,” Cameron said.

‘Hung Parliament Party’

A hung Parliament may roil markets because a divided government would be too weak to fix Britain’s finances, some economists say. The pound slumped 1 percent in the two days after the first debate. Sterling strengthened today for the first time in three days. It gained 0.6 percent to $1.5466 at 4:16 p.m. in London after a report showed U.K. house prices increased for a ninth consecutive month.

The Conservatives today showed a party election broadcast that depicts the fictional “Hung Parliament Party,” which promises to do deals behind closed doors and potential damage to the economy.

“The choice in this election is between a hung Parliament and a Conservative majority,” Conservative Treasury spokesman George Osborne told a news conference in London. “There are still many people who hope and expect there is going to be a Conservative majority, and I think the markets have always to a degree priced that in and I think we can deliver that.”

‘Clear Mandate’

A survey of 300 businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce published today found 65 percent “concerned” or “very concerned” at the prospect of a hung Parliament. “Instinctively, companies prefer a clear mandate to lead and govern,” BCC Director General David Frost said in an e-mailed statement.

Yesterday Clegg said it would be “preposterous” for Gordon Brown to stay on as prime minister if Labour comes in third in the popular vote.

Asked about other possible partners in an interview with BBC News in Edinburgh today, Clegg said, “I will work with anyone who is prepared to work with me to introduce the big reforms.”

Clegg said yesterday the recent rise in support for his party meant changes to the voting system would be “unavoidable” after the election.

Electoral-system changes are vital to the Liberal Democrats because the first-past-the-post rule hurts smaller parties. In 2005, Liberal Democrats won 22 percent of the vote but fewer than 10 percent of the seats. If there is a hung Parliament, Clegg’s party may be able to demand change as a price for its support.

Today Cameron didn’t rule out doing a deal with Clegg on electoral reform, simply saying instead that he supports the system as it stands.

“I don’t support changing our electoral system, I think it works for Britain,” Cameron said.

Labour has stepped up its attacks on the Liberal Democrats in recent days. “My sense is that Nick Clegg has somewhat overreached himself,” Labour’s election coordinator, Douglas Alexander, told reporters in London today. Clegg is “intoxicated by the publicity.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net; Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net.

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