BOSTON — They were supposed to be a bore — but Britain's elections have turned into high theater.
The Conservatives, led by David Cameron, look likely to win the popular vote but not a majority of seats. The Labour party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown is trying not to implode. And the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg — who has been likened to both Barack Obama and that most hallowed of British statesmen, Winston Churchill — could emerge as kingmaker.
Polls open Thursday and the candidates are crisscrossing the country, kissing the requisite babies, trying to avoid cringe-inducing gaffes and even cutting ribbons at tattoo parlors.
Here are 10 of the top photos from the campaign trail.
Labour supporters in Birmingham wear political T-shirts in support of their party, which has consistently trailed in polls behind the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, April 29, 2010. (Darren Staples/Reuters)
Mannequins of Brown, Clegg and Cameron with a noose hung in front of them during a photo shoot to illustrate a "Hung Parliament" at the London Dungeon, April 28, 2010. The Conservatives have been warning against the dangers of a hung parliament, in which no party enjoys an overall majority, even releasing a mock party political broadcast using a Clegg lookalike. (Toby Melville/Reuters)
Britain's first-ever televised leadership debate was a bit of a snoozer. But by Thursday's third debate in Birmingham, there was plenty of flair: the three leaders free-wheeled, ducked and dived and attacked each other. (Jeff Overs/BBC/Reuters)
Such was the size of the collective swoon that greeted Nick Clegg after the first debate that newspapers declared it “Cleggmania.” Here Clegg listens at the Community Church in Greenway, April 22, 2010. (Gareth Fuller/Pool/Reuters)
Liberal Democrat election signs outside a house in north London, April 24, 2010. The last Liberal to hold the top job in Britain was David Lloyd George, a libidinous Welshman who led Britain to war against Germany in 1914 before seeing his Liberal Party’s power usurped by the upstart Labour a decade later. The Liberal Democrats formed in 1988 as a merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)
Three months ago the assumption was the Conservatives would win easily. But the race has turned into a dogfight, leaving Cameron caught in a messy scramble rather than enjoying a stately ascension to 10 Downing Street. Here he visits a Coca Cola factory in Wakefield, England, April 28, 2010. (Oli Scarff/Pool/Reuters)
In a break with tradition, Brown and Cameron have dispatched their wives to the campaign trail to help with their image problems. Brown and his wife Sarah attend an election campaign event at Arnold Mill Primary School in Nottingham, April 24, 2010. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)
Brown speaks with resident Gillian Duffy during a campaign stop in Rochdale, northwest England, April 28, 2010. Brown was caught on tape describing Duffy as "bigoted" after she confronted him on immigration and the economy. Brown is one of many politicians to get caught saying something he shouldn't while the mic was still on. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)
Footage from Brown's gaffe began to loop on the rolling news channels. Within an hour it was running near the top of the Drudge Report and Twitter had erupted — "bigotgate" had gone viral. Here pedestrians pass a large television screen in London April 28, 2010. (Toby Melville/Reuters)
Brown speaks at a news conference in London, April 23, 2010. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)