Millions of undecided voters hold the fate of leaders
Millions of undecided voters held the fate of Britain's political leaders on Thursday as polling was held for the most closely-contested general election in a generation with opinion polls pointing to a hung Parliament while giving the Tories sufficient edge to be able to form a minority government.
Tory chief David Cameron, accompanied by his heavily-pregnant wife Samantha, was the first of the three main party leaders to vote and the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg the last. His wife, Miriam, accompanied him to the polling station but was not able to vote because she is a Spanish national.
On what could be his last day as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown looked remarkably cheerful as he briskly walked into the polling booth with his wife Sarah and warmly greeted journalists and party supporters gathered outside. After a gruelling campaign, all three leaders travelled to their constituencies to cast their votes.
Mr. Brown ended his campaign with an emotional appeal to disenchanted Labour voters to “come home'', while his two rivals called for “change'' after 13 years of Labour rule with Mr. Cameron urging voters not to let “fear triumph over hope'' and Mr. Clegg saying people had an opportunity to ‘change Britain forever''.
With as many as 40 per cent of voters said to be undecided all parties were able to claim that there was still everything to play for. The tension was, especially, palpable in the 100-odd key marginal seats where a swing of a few hundred votes could make the difference.
Tories, in particular, invested heavily in Labour marginals, some held by leading Labour figures, including former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Ed Balls, Schools Secretary and one of Mr. Brown's close confidants.
Labour claimed a late surge of support among women voters in marginal constituencies saying the election would be decided “around kitchen tables and in living rooms''. Lib Dems' hopes of snatching a number of marginal Labour and Tory seats appeared to fade after failing to sustain the momentum they had gained on the back of Mr. Clegg's barnstorming performance during the leaders' television debates.
Polling would close at 10 p.m. (local time) and first results are expected around midnight though a clear picture is not likely to emerge until late Friday morning.
No official figures for voter turnout were available at the time of going to the press.