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Parties launch a pre-election blitz, but behind the scenes the talk is of deals and a hung poll

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 03 May 2010

Three days before the general election, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg insist they want outright victory. But as Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon explains, the public rhetoric is not matched by conversation behind the scenes.

Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, David Cameron

All three party leaders have launched an all-out blitz in the countdown to Thursday's poll.

David Cameron said he would be campaigning for 24 hours straight, while Nick Clegg told his supporters they had three days to change Britain.

But it was Gordon Brown who appeared most impassioned, winning a standing ovation from a non-partisan group as he appealed  for "justice, dignity and fairness".

All the parties insist they are aiming for power – but the polls still show anything but a clear result.

David Cameron's aides think he might yet get the majority that seemed to be slipping from his grasp in the last few weeks. The Conservative leader has scheduled 24 hours of campaigning for his diary tomorrow.

"We're going to be right across the country, no stopping, Tuesday night through to Wednesday night, to do everything we can to win this election," David Cameron told voters today. "We take nothing for granted."

More on hung parliaments on the Channel 4 News website
- Voter’s guide to engineering a hung parliament
- Hung parliaments: a short history
- Hung parliament in the balance in 2010
- Minority governments, coalitions, and pacts

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, was meanwhile telling supporters that Mr Cameron was "measuring up the curtains for No.10 before you have even voted".

"It's for you to tell us, the politicians, what kind of a future you want," Mr Clegg said.

This afternoon all three leaders were given an enthusiastic welcome at the CitizensUK child and voluntary groups campaign. Mr Brown gave the audience some old-time religion.

"As you fight for fairness," he said, "you will always find in me a friend, a partner and a brother."

"When Cicero spoke to the crowds in ancient Rome, people turned to each other after hearing the speech and said, 'Great speech!'

“But when Demosthenes spoke to the crowds in ancient Greece and people turned to each other, they said, 'Let's march! Let's march for justice, dignity, fairness!'

"That's what we've all got to march for!"

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has suggested that voters in some seats might want to "lend" their votes to the Liberal Democrats to keep the Tories out. But the Lib Dems are showing little inclination to reciprocate.

All polls suggest the Tories will get the largest share of the vote on Thursday – but they are far from certain of getting a majority.

In his latest blog, Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon reveals that the latest poll, for Mori/Reuters, suggests the Tories could be in majority government zone.

Gary Gibbon blogs: when to sleep with the enemy?
Another marginals poll suggesting the Tories could be in majority government zone - just. But the numbers are far too tight for them to be confident, and talk in Tory ranks is all about what might they have to trim if they were in a minority government.

The Boundaries Bill redrawing the seats and slashing the number of MPs would be an early guaranteed victim. Other parties feel it would hurt them and benefit the Tories.

The free vote on foxhunting might not be worth the trouble, depending on how many Lib Dem MPs come from rural seats. All votes would have to be treated a little less as "life and death" matters because you could die a thousand deaths if you weren't careful.

Lib Dems I talk to think that the £6bn immediate cuts the Tories have put centre stage in this campaign could be talked about rationally and down-scaled without much difficulty because the markets would be more interested in the overall package (bound to be tougher than what we've already been told) and would be happy with the eye-watering nature of the overall cuts for 2011 and beyond in the emergency summer budget.

Tories say that education reforms might get through comfortably with Lib Dem support. Welfare needs little legislation, and the whole point of the criminal justice policy is to stop new offences being created every week.

What constitutes serious hung parliament territory where David Cameron would have to get into bed with another party?

There is no grid, Gus O'Donnell has not provided a ready reckoner, alas. There's a consensus emerging that anything above 310 Tory MPs and David Cameron is entitled to run the show on his own. No-one will complain much.

The minor parties hardly ever combine in the same vote as the second and third parties, and the Tories would be able to count on Democratic Unonists for some votes.

After that it all gets a bit fuzzier, a bit of a grey area. If he's only got around 270 MPs you're talking coalition. If he's in the 280s, the 290s, when does he have to get into some sort of arrangement with the Lib Dems?

When is a "confidence and supply" agreement enough (he gets support in "no confidence" and budget votes in return for some sort of consultation rights or something a bit stronger)? Is it immediately below 310 or can you still give it a go on your own if you're at 300+?

Most I spoke to today felt that 270-290, you'd have to have some sort of agreement but you might just be able to avoid a full coalition. It would depend what the other numbers looked like, other parties' tallies and shares of the vote, the sense of mandate.

But he told Jon Snow this evening that politicians from all parties were considering how to respond in the event of a hung parliament.

He said he had spoken to senior Tories today who told him they were convinced they would have to abandon commitments such as a re-drawing of constituency boundaries – a measure that would allow the Conservatives to seize back a lot of seats.

The Conservatives would also think about dropping legislation that would bring about referendums on Europe, he thought. The important thing, the Conservatives feel, would be to try to not make every single vote "a life and death experience".

Gary Gibbon observed that it was interesting talking to Liberal Democrats about doing a deal with a party that planned to take £6bn out of the economy in year one.

He said the view among some Lib Dems was: "The other side of the curtain, things might look different."

The conversation behind the scenes does not reflect the public rhetoric, he concluded.

CitizensUK: nuclear protester interrupts Brown
Gordon Brown received a boost from a mass meeting addressed by all three main party leaders, getting the warmest reception of the afternoon.

The CitizensUK assembly was one of the biggest gatherings of the election, bringing together 2,500 members of church, mosque and school groups and community organisations in Westminster's Methodist Central Hall.

Speaking first, David Cameron told them their ideas were at the heart of the Conservative manifesto, promising to "invite charities, faith groups and neighbourhood groups to set up schools, to run welfare services, to help rehabilitate offenders". 

"Don't anyone tell me we can't build the big society", he said. "You're doing it. People want change for the best and they know they can get it."

Nick Clegg, up next, stressed his party's "unrelenting commitment to fairness", which he said was "hardwired" into the Liberal Demoxcrat manifesto.

Clegg addressed some of CitizensUK's criticisms of current government policy, denouncing the detention of the children of asylum seekers. "No, we shouldn't be locking up children, under-age children in 21st century Britain", he said.

But it was Gordon Brown, speaking last, who worked the crowd most effectively, trumpeting Labour's introduction of the minimum wage and anti-poverty commitments and reminiscing about his days as a student activist campaigning to get his university to cut its links with apartheid South Africa. 

He was briefly interrupted by a protester waving a banner reading "Nukiller power". But after the man was bundled out, the Prime Minister finished his speech to sustained applause. Trumping the other two leaders' pledges to visit the assembly twice a year, Brown said he would come four times a year "if it's anything like this".

"You have given me heart today, and inspired me", he said. "So I want to thank you for allowing me to speak".

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