Nick Clegg’s surge brings new twist to UK election

Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — An unpredictable British national election has suddenly become more uncertain, with an unexpectedly stellar television debate performance from the leader of the Liberal Democrats sending the perenially third-ranked party to first place in some opinion polls.

Nick Clegg’s party has leapfrogged the main opposition Conservatives — who most had expected to oust Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s governing Labour after 13 years in office. The Liberal Democrats’ success is overturning all previous predictions for Britain’s May 6 poll.

Clegg’s relaxed style and sharp attacks on Britain’s two major parties won him, by virtually every asseessment, the country’s first ever TV debate last week, and prompted an opinion poll surge that’s eclipsed his rivals.

The 43-year-old Clegg attacked Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron as part of an old consensus in British politics that allowed a lawmakers’ expense scandal and failed to anticipate the financial meltdown…

…Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, who last held power as the Liberal Party in the 1920s, are on course for their best national election result since the merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988.

The party — which usually takes about 20 percent of British votes — is fiscally conservative but socially liberal. It opposed the Iraq war, says it won’t support strikes against Iran if diplomacy fails over its disputed nuclear program, and is uneasy at a rising death toll in Afghanistan…

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