Closest UK elections in over 35 years


London : Britons go to the polls next month to cast their votes in what could be the closest general election in over 35 years and the lowest turnout in almost a century.

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The date of the elections on May 6 was confirmed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown Tuesday as the latest opinion polls show the opposition Conservatives leading the ruling Labour Party but perhaps by not enough in marginal seats to win an overall parliamentary majority.

The last closest election was in 1974 when Labour won by 3 seats that was whittled down to become a minority government without a parliamentary majority. Since then there has been four consecutive Conservative victories followed by three Labour.

A Guardian ICM poll Tuesday suggested Labour has clawed back the Conservative lead to four per cent and could still win more although not necessarily an overall majority of the 650 parliamentary seats with only a 33 per cent share of the vote.

One of the many anomalies under Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system shows that the result is decided largely on the relatively small number of marginal constituencies.

Fears were also expressed Tuesday that next month’s election could see the turnout fall below 59 per cent modern-day record set in 2001 and become the lowest since 1918.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, executive director of campaign group Democratic Audit, believed that voting would be hit by the “cumulative effect” of the expenses scandal exposed by The Daily Telegraph last year and the more recent cash for access scandal.

The turnout “could dip below 2001. We tend to see a cumulative effect of all these scandals mean that people switch off and are less inclined to vote,” Wilks-Heeg told the Telegraph.

Professor of politics at Strathclyde University, John Curtice, has suggested that the biggest winners from the expenses scandal could be a boost in votes for strong independent candidates.