After talking, debating, arguing, persuading and cajoling throughout a five-week election campaign, Britain’s party leaders are fast running out of time to try to convince people to vote for them in Thursday’s election.
With opinion polls consistently suggesting that no party is likely to win an overall majority, all have been out and about on the last day of campaigning.
The election looks set to be perhaps the closest for a generation. At stake is the UK’s place in Europe, with the governing Conservatives promising an in-out referendum on the country’s membership of the European Union. At the same time, rising nationalist sentiment particularly in Scotland is putting national cohesion under strain.
Of the two realistic contenders for prime minister, David Cameron the incumbent was in Wales spreading the message: vote Conservative, don’t take a chance with Labour.
“People really want to think carefully before they cast their vote, but I believe when the crunch comes, when they ask themselves the question ‘do I trust Ed Miliband with the economy, or do I want to stick with a plan and a team that’s turning the country round?’… I think we can do very well on Thursday and cross that line,” Cameron said.
Virtually neck and neck with the Conservatives, Labour has put Britain’s treasured but troubled health service at the heart of its campaign. Leader Ed Miliband has spent the last day in northern England:
“This is the clearest choice that has been put before the British people for a generation – between a Tory (Conservative) government that works only for the privileged few, or a Labour government that will put working families first,” Miliband told a rally of supporters, to applause.
But Labour is threatened by the Scottish National Party, which is tipped to make huge gains north of the border. Leader Nicola Sturgeon told supporters in Edinburgh the SNP was “within touching distance” of making Westminster history.
Also in Scotland at the end of his “two-day dash” from Cornwall, Nick Clegg said he was confident the Liberal Democrats – in coalition for the past five years – could hold enough seats to be a key player in any negotiations to form the next government.
But the rise of fringe parties such as the pro-independence SNP and the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has drained support from the two main parties in particular.
UKIP, which has spent much of the campaign fending off accusations of racism, was forced to suspend one of its candidates for threatening to “put a bullet” in his Conservative rival, a Briton of Asian origin, if he ever became prime minister.
Nigel Farage’s party is not expected to win many seats, but its anti-immigration, anti-EU message could be the driving force behind Britain’s future direction.
The Greens leader Natalie Bennett said her party, which at present has only one MP, would be battling to keep the Conservatives out in favour of Labour, which it would put under pressure to ditch austerity measures.