Polls show today's British election too close to call despite tilt to Labor

April 09, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Britain stood at the edge of its future yesterday as the prospect loomed that the Labor Party, led by the loquacious Welshman, Neil Kinnock, would be coming into power following today's election.

But there are no certainties. And Prime Minister John Major reasserted his conviction yesterday that the polls are wrong, that he and the Conservatives would be returned for a fourth consecutive term with a working majority in the House of Commons.

The polls over the three weeks of the campaign have kept Labor slightly ahead, by two or three points.

This narrow margin has created a strong expectation that the election will result in a hung Parliament, a situation in which no party will win an overall majority of seats.

Over 43 million people can vote. The closeness of the contest is expected to produce a high turnout, about 76 percent.

The Conservatives know that the polls are susceptible to a three-point margin of error, which they say could conceal a bare lead. But it could also conceal an even greater Labor one.

The Conservative Party has tried to exploit fears over what might happen should Labor win.

Mr. Major and his ministers have predicted deeper recession, further unemployment, a resurgence of destructive industrial strikes, riots in the streets, and even the breakup of the United Kingdom -- this latter a consequence of Labor's plans to transfer local authority to Scotland (which most Scots want) through a devolved parliament.

The Conservative scare strategy is also aimed at winning those voters who told pollsters that they had not yet decided whom they would vote for.

Labor, for its part, feels it has won back the confidence of the British people, lost more than a dozen years ago by a weak, union-ridden Labor government that nearly brought the country to ruin.

Now, Labor says, it is the Conservatives who have done this, by engineering two major recessions in Britain in the past 13 years.

The Conservatives, Mr. Kinnock said in Lancashire this week, are "asking people to treat what they have done as a success. After all they have done, they do not deserve to be re-elected."

Polls also say that Labor has been gaining in what are called the "marginal constituencies" in Northwest England, the Midlands and London.

In a way, the people in the marginals will decide the election. These are the the constituencies, about 80, where the Conservatives won in 1987 with a majority of 15 percent or less and which now may swing to Labor.

A hung Parliament could give the third of Britain's major parties, the Liberal Democrats, a decisive role in deciding the country's immediate future.

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