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British election is a race again as economy boosts Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown's government cut deficit forecasts today, which could give him a boost. While he was trailing badly, recent polls show a public nearly equally divided between Labour and Tory ahead of the British election.

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Kevin Foster, a Conservative candidate in a tight race for the Labour-held seat of Coventry South in the English midlands, refers to the US presidential race when asked about his party's faltering support.

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"Look at what happened with Barack Obama and John McCain... Around the time of the Republican Convention, it was close. Then a few weeks later the parties were fairly wide apart and Obama went on to score a decisive victory," he says. He insists Cameron is an asset to his own campaign in Coventry South, traditionally a Labour-supporting area with an industrial heritage.

"I think that for a lot of people, David Cameron is fresh and new and is very much someone who has changed the Tory Party," adds Mr. Foster.

Widespread disenchantment

Elsewhere in the constituency of Rochester and Strood, would-be Labour MP Teresa Murray presses home her party's mantra that the Tories are not a "credible alternative." She adds: "What has brought people back to Labour has been our strong management of the economy."

Ms. Murray also hits out at the "personalization" of British politics and the "disgraceful" way the media have focused on aspects of Brown's personality.

Both Murray and Foster have picked up on a crucial undercurrent of the election campaign – widespread public disenchantment with politicians of all hues arising from last year's furor over widespread manipulation of parliamentary expense claims by members of Parliament. That controversy, says Roger Mortimore of pollsters Ipsos/Mori, has injected an "unknown quality" into this election.

"I would expect there to be more strange and unexpected results in the election," he says. "The more that a candidate has been personally involved in it, then the more it will be likely that they will suffer ... but there are also large numbers of genuinely hardworking politicians being badly smeared."

Panning for votes, showcasing their wives

With hostility toward Britain's political classes running high, it's not surprising that party leaders are eager to grasp any new opportunities to increase their appeal.

For example, some suspect that the wives of Cameron and Brown have been wheeled out more often than they would otherwise have been if it were not for the recent narrowing of the race.

April's three televised debates – which will involve Brown, Cameron, and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats dealing in turn with domestic, international, and economic issues – is another.

The live confrontations will showcase the leaders' contrasting political styles. Whether they, or the budget, will allow Labour a real shot at closing the gap on their Tory opponents remains to be seen.

Like others, however, pol­lster Hawkins suspects that a turning point may have been reached for the apparently stalled Tory campaign. "I think that they may well be on their way back now after reaching their low-water mark," he says. "My expectation would be for a small and working Conservative majority rather than a hung parliament."

The increasingly unpopular Labour Party has been in power for 13 years. Recent modest signs of recovery in the British economy, however, may be enough to hold off the efforts of the Conservative Party to unseat Gordon Brown.