LONDON — Britain is bracing for a May 6 general election that may alter the landscape of its politics — a race that offers at least three unpredictable outcomes and one of the most dramatic since Tony Blair defeated the Conservatives in 1997.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the long-awaited election date Tuesday as the resurgent Conservatives prepared for battle against the bedraggled Labour incumbents with the nation drowning in debt after a golden age of economic prosperity.
Youthful and charismatic Conservative leader David Cameron once seemed certain to grab power after 13 years of Labour rule — but tightening polls and quirks of the British election system leave the outcome uncertain. Whoever wins, Britain could well become an altered state with higher taxes, fewer services, tougher business regulations and less willingness to join expensive U.S.-led military campaigns.
"Last year, I didn't care at all about this election," said Jacob McDonald, a 24-year-old business graduate who has been on a job hunt for nearly a year. "But now I think this could actually be big — so big that it could to make or break my life in the next five years. I plan on voting, but haven't made a choice yet."
The election comes at a bruising time for Britain's main political parties — all three were stung in a scandal about expenses that exposed lawmakers who filed claims for everything from pornography to chandeliers. Voters, meanwhile, lost jobs and homes as Britain struggled with the worst recession since World War II and the largest deficit among the Group of Seven nations.