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Britons to Vote in Tight Election Race

Economy, immigration, social issues dominate campaign with no single party emerging as clear favorite

British voters go to the polls Thursday to elect a new parliament which, in turn, will decide who forms the next government. The economy has been the main issue throughout the campaign alongside concerns about immigration and social issues. The three main parties are running neck and neck with the possibility that none will win enough votes to form a government without a coalition.

At stake are 650 seats, with three main parties vying to control parliament and form a government.

The candidates for prime minister have squared off in the first ever TV debates in Britain with a unique opportunity to make a pitch to the voters.

Incumbent Gordon Brown of the left of center Labor Party said, "we are desperate to get this country through the recession and into the recovery and that is what I intend to continue to do."

His main rival, David Cameron, who leads the Conservative Party, said "you can have a new, fresh government, making a clean break and taking our country in a new direction."

And Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats addressed voters saying, "if we do things differently we can build a better, a fairer Britain."

The TV debates have revolutionized the election, says political analyst Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics.

"If you had said to me, even the day before the first debate, that 10 million people would watch some portion of an hour and a half debate, I would have said, 'No, no, this is never going to happen.' So, it has been a revelation that so many people would be so interested," Dunleavy said.

After 13 years in power, Labor had lost its appeal and the rival Conservatives looked set to win. But the debates thrust Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg into the limelight and have thrown a lackluster two-party contest wide open. That has changed everything, says Dunleavy.

"So, suddenly we have moved from a straight 'Labor loses, Conservatives win' into a much more complex election, a much closer fought election," Dunleavy said.

The candidates have also been on the more traditional campaign trail and for Prime Minister Gordon Brown in particular, it has not been easy, especially when he was recently confronted by a traditional Labor voter who complained about immigration.

"Well, all these East European immigrants that are coming in, where are they flocking from," asked one woman.
"About a million people come from Europe, but a million British people have gone into Europe," answered Mr. Brown.

But then came the real problem. The prime minister did not realize his microphone was still on and after leaving he referred to the woman as "bigoted." He later apologized to her, but the comments caused a furor.

Immigration is an issue for many voters and a touchy subject. But, it is the economy that seems uppermost in voters' minds.

"The single biggest issue - the economy, the massive debt we have got. You know if you have not got the money everything else is going to suffer," said a man.
"It will be a struggle for anybody. I think we are all going to suffer some cuts somewhere," a woman said.

There are indications that none of the parties will win an outright majority and a coalition might be the only way to form a government. But in such a tight race, no one is willing to make a firm projection.