Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg raised the goal for the number of House of Commons seats his party plans to win in the May 6 U.K. election after a surge to second place in most opinion polls.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the last week or two to identify a raft of seats we’re now targeting against both Labour and the Conservatives,” Clegg said in an interview as he returned to London after campaigning in southern England yesterday. “We started by targeting well over 100, which is more than we ever have before.” Clegg didn’t say which seats or how many had been added to the list.
Gains in seats by the Liberal Democrats increase the likelihood of a hung Parliament in which neither Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party nor the main opposition Conservatives would have a majority. That outcome may roil markets on concern that power sharing between parties would create a government too weak to fix Britain’s finances.
A ComRes Ltd. poll last night indicated Labour and the Liberal Democrats are battling for second place behind the Conservatives. Because of the uneven distribution of votes, that may still enable Labour to be the biggest bloc in Parliament, though without a majority.
The Liberal Democrats have been buoyed by Clegg’s performances in televised debates, which boosted their ratings from about 20 percent. The ComRes poll put their support at 29 percent, which would translate into 93 lawmakers in the 650-seat House of Commons, up from 62 at the last election in 2005.
The poll showed Labour, which also has 29 percent support, are set to win 277 seats, with the Conservatives taking 248, even though they are leading with 32 percent of the vote.
The pound has dropped 2 percent against the dollar since the first TV debate as polls have pointed increasingly to a hung Parliament. Sterling fell to $1.5179 at 11:25 a.m. in London from $1.5265 in New York late yesterday.
Investors are concerned about possible lack of action to narrow the U.K.’s budget deficit, the biggest of any Group of Seven country. The deficit widened 76 percent in the year through March to 152.8 billion pounds ($233 billion), the largest since World War II.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are seeking to reassure voters that such an outcome would not lead to economic instability, countering concerns expressed by the Conservatives.
“It’s not a disaster at all, we shouldn’t have scaremongering about this,” Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable told the Institute of Directors in a question-and- answer session after a speech in London today. “It will force parties to work together and get us out of our tribal tradition of politics in this country.”
“I think that the markets have pretty well discounted whatever the result,” Peter Mandelson, the Labour government’s business secretary, said yesterday. “I think that they know that in our political system you will get sensible, stable, grown-up politics.”
Cameron said during a campaign stop in Morley, northern England, today that a hung Parliament “would be a failure for the country.
George Osborne, the Conservatives’ Treasury spokesman, said this week that a hung Parliament might lead to a “dip in confidence,” a slump in the pound and “disastrous” increases in interest rates that would “paralyze” the country.
The challenge for Clegg is to translate his party’s extra national support into more lawmakers by scoring victories in individual districts.
“They were already targeting seats around Newcastle and Liverpool, so it might be a case of widening their targets around there,” YouGov Plc pollster Anthony Wells said in a telephone interview. “That means taking Labour areas.”
Wells said Clegg might also be trying to gain seats in southwest England that the Liberal Democrats previously expected the Conservatives to win.
Clegg said he’s “pretty confident” party members would back him on any post-election agreement, even though the applause at the party’s conference in Birmingham last month was louder for attacks on the Conservatives than Labour.
“We’ve got serious plans on tax reform, banking reform, education and reforming politics, that’s what we’ll be pursuing,” he said.
Clegg says Brown can’t stay on as premier if Labour finishes third in the popular vote, even if it wins the most seats.
Mandelson said today Clegg was being precipitate in announcing demands before the votes are counted.
“Frankly it is arrogant for him to lay down conditions and set terms for a post-vote coalition before any votes have been cast,” the business secretary told a news conference in London.