A minority Labour government without Gordon Brown as Prime Minister appeared to be emerging as a distinct possibility on Wednesday after Liberal Democrats demanded his head as the price for propping it up in the event of a “hung'' Parliament after next week's general election.

As Labour continued to trail the Tories and Liberal Democrats in opinion polls, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: “I think, if Labour do come third in terms of the number of votes cast, then people would find it inexplicable that Gordon Brown himself could carry on as Prime Minister. ''

Mr. Clegg, who is riding a wave of popularity after his impressive performance during the two televised leaders' debates and has admitted to nursing ambitions of becoming Prime minister himself, insisted that Labour must ditch Mr. Brown if it wanted Lib Dem support.

He said he was willing to work with the “man from the moon'' to ensure political stability, if no party won outright majority, but not with Mr. Brown.

“I just don't think the British people would accept that he could carry on as Prime Minister, which is what the convention of old politics dictates when, or rather if, he were to lose the election in such spectacular style,'' he said.

Under Britain's first-past-the-post system, Labour could still emerge as the single largest party in terms of the number of seats despite trailing behind the other parties in terms of share of the national vote.

Though in public Labour reacted with anger to Mr. Clegg's remarks saying nobody could “dictate'' who its leader would be, behind-the-scenes jockeying for a post-Brown world was reported to be in full swing. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling were being mentioned as among possible successors to Mr. Brown.

In a sign of how badly his campaign is going, Mr. Brown was forced to offer a public apology after being caught on microphone calling a voter a “bigoted woman”. He made the remarks after Gillian Duffy (65) confronted him with questions on immigration and European Union during his campaign trail.

“I do apologise if I've said anything that has been hurtful,” he told the BBC later.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the third and final television debate on Thursday with Mr. Brown under pressure to raise his game after his stuttering performance in the previous two debates.

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