The starting gun has been fired at last.
After months of preliminary skirmishing among Britain's political parties, Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday to dissolve Parliament, triggering what many observers expect to be the most closely fought national election in decades. Britons go to the polls May 6.
As the official campaign got underway, all parties agreed on at least the key issues: tackling Britain's enormous deficit, bolstering the country's fragile economy and protecting public services.
Brown's Labor party has been in power for 13 years, but the 59-year-old leader is seeking to win his first national election. (He succeeded Tony Blair, who stepped down in 2007).
In Britain, the electorate votes for a party, not a president, and the Conservatives are currently leading by as much as 10 points in some opinion polls. But the margin is still close enough that many predict a hung Parliament, in which no party has a majority and has to seek deals with others. If that happens, the third-party Liberal Democrats could decide who becomes prime minister.
The closeness of the race marks a dramatic change since December, when Conservative leader David Cameron appeared set to sweep into power with an outright majority. If his party does win, the 43-year-old would be the youngest prime minister in nearly two centuries.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; 6:22 PM