Cameron, Brown Trade Jabs on Economy as U.K. Race Tightens

Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown toured swing seats in a fight to woo undecided voters as polls tightened three days before U.K. elections.

Surveys by YouGov Plc and ICM Ltd. today showed Brown narrowing Cameron’s advantage in popular support and retaking the lead in the forecast number of seats in Parliament. Neither is likely to gain a governing majority in the May 6 election.

“It’s still looking like a minority government,” said Anthony Wells, a YouGov pollster. “If the Conservative vote firms up a bit, they could miss a majority quite narrowly. But I haven’t seen anything to make us think they’re going to make it.”

The prospect of a hung Parliament, the first since 1974, may unsettle investors concerned that such a government would be too weak to reduce the record budget deficit. The pound has fallen about 5 percent against the dollar this year as opinion polls pointed increasingly to a political stalemate.

The YouGov daily poll for the Sun put the Conservatives at 34 percent, Labour at 28 percent and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats at 29 percent. The British Broadcasting Corp.’s forecasting formula translates that into 264 seats for Cameron and 267 seats for Brown in the 650-member House of Commons.

Cameron Slips

In the ICM survey for the Guardian, Brown gained 4 points on the Conservatives from an ICM survey yesterday. Cameron lost three points to 33 percent and Brown added one to 28 percent. The Liberal Democrats added a point to 28 percent. That suggests 282 seats for Brown, 251 for Cameron and 88 for Clegg’s party.

Brown’s 28 percent, if borne out in the vote, would be Labour’s lowest score since 1983.

Cameron began the day -- a public holiday -- campaigning in Blackpool in northwest England, where Labour holds both seats. He then traveled to Bermondsey in south London and said he will be starting a 24-hour campaigning push tomorrow night and that the election remains “wide open.”

“There’s real work to do,” Cameron said. “There’s millions of people still to be persuaded.”

Brown went to Basildon, Ipswich and Great Yarmouth in eastern England, seats that the Conservatives must win to gain a majority in Parliament. Clegg campaigned in Lewisham East, a district in southeast London that was not previously on his Liberal Democrats’ list of most winnable targets. He then went to Streatham and Richmond in the southwest of the capital.

Outright Majority

A majority in the House of Commons requires 326 seats. The Conservatives need to gain 117 seats for an outright majority.

Pollsters, including Wells, caution that their seat forecasts may be incorrect because they don’t take into account a three-way race.

In addition, the calculations assume universal moves across the country. Two polls in Scotland yesterday showed the Conservatives in fourth place. That suggests the swing to them is higher elsewhere in the U.K. Their hopes of victory depend on those gains coming in the seats they targeted with resources.

Heading into the campaign’s final days, Cameron introduced a “contract with voters,” a list of 16 pledges sent to millions of voters in swing districts. The statement promises to clean up politics, cut wasteful spending and protect the state- funded National Health Service.

He said a hung Parliament spelled “uncertainty, fudge and muddle” and pledged to start tackling the deficit right away if he wins a majority.

‘Disastrous’

The bailout of Greece shows that “doing nothing about the deficit is a disastrous state of affairs,” he said.

Brown said electing the Conservatives, who have promised 6 billion pounds ($9.2 billion) of cuts this year, risked a double-dip recession.

“They don’t like the change that David Cameron is offering,” said Business Secretary Peter Mandelson at a press briefing in London. “What is increasingly clear is that there is only one party who can lead a progressive government and that’s the Labour Party.”

Brown’s campaign to win a fourth term for Labour was set back last week after polls showed he was beaten in the candidates’ final televised debate and he was forced to apologize for calling a supporter “bigoted.” He lost the backing of three publications in two days, including the Guardian, which had endorsed his party in every vote since 1983.

‘Game-Show Host’

Brown dismissed Clegg, whose popularity surged after the campaign’s first televised debate April 15, calling him a “game-show host” in an interview in yesterday’s Observer newspaper.

The Liberal Democrats today listed 13 celebrity supporters. They include Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter in the movie series, Richard Dawkins, the former Oxford University science professor who wrote “The Selfish Gene,” and Oscar- nominated actor Colin Firth.

“As a once committed Labour voter I, like so many, have been appalled by the abandonment of the values they advocated,” Firth said in an e-mailed statement. “Those who, like me, have despaired of political alternatives, should take a second look.”

To contact the reporters responsible for this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net; Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net.

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