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Colorful Fringe Candidates Vie For Prominence In UK Election
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Colorful Fringe Candidates Vie For Prominence In UK Election

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Colorful Fringe Candidates Vie For Prominence In UK Election

Colorful Fringe Candidates Vie For Prominence In UK Election
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/397450816/397450817" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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With just over a month to go before general elections in Britain on May 7, snap polls show no clear front runner as the countdown begins.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In the U.S., we experience what seems like a never-ending campaign season. Almost as soon as one election is over the race is on for the next one. The U.K. is different. This week, the starting gun fired on Britain's 2015 election campaigning season. Voters will go to the polls in just four weeks. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister David Cameron's black armored Jaguar rolled to Buckingham Palace. Then he returned to Number 10 Downing Street to make his opening pitch.

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PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: I've just had an audience with her Majesty the Queen following the dissolution of Parliament.

SHAPIRO: No massive launch rallies here with thousands of cheering supporters. That's not the British campaign style. Cameron's audience was a bank of cameras.

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CAMERON: Five years ago, when I walked through that black door, millions of people were unemployed. There was no economic security for families, and there were worries about whether our country could pay its debts.

SHAPIRO: Now he says Britain has turned around. Cameron leads the Conservative Party, which ran a coalition government for the last five years. His only rival to be prime minister is Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband. Miliband pitched his opening-day message to business, saying Britain's recovery has been uneven.

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ED MILIBAND: And let me also say this - there is no future for Britain as a how low can you go economy. Productivity is the key to the country we wish to be - richer, fairer, with opportunity for all.

SHAPIRO: Polls show these two parties in a near tie. And for most of the last century, that has been the entire contest - labor versus conservative - not anymore. For the second election in a row, it looks like nobody will get more than 50 percent of the vote. That means a smaller party will need to join a coalition government. A handful of colorful leaders are on the fringes vying to be kingmaker.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Vote S&P to get Scotland's voice heard in Westminster.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The only party in this election that is actually offering a solution to the immigration crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Only Plaid Cymru has policies made in Wales by people in Wales.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Only the liberal Democrats have a credible plan to finish the job of balancing the books.

SHAPIRO: Coalition governments used to be virtually unheard of. Now they could be the new normal.

Thursday night, seven party leaders took the stage for the only televised debate of this campaign. Cameron refused to participate in a one-on-one face-off against Miliband, so the stage was crowded and, at times, chaotic.

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SHAPIRO: That cacophony pretty much captures the state of British politics right now, says Sheila Lawlor. She directs the London think tank Politeia.

SHELIA LAWLOR: This is like a race where there's no favorite. Nobody really knows who's going to win.

SHAPIRO: That adds excitement to the contest, but in another respect, Lawlor describes this as the dullest election Britain has ever had.

LAWLOR: For the first time, the parties seem all to have the same policies on the big matters. They know we need to cut the national debt. The only difference is how fast, how quickly.

SHAPIRO: And this is a relentlessly inward-looking campaign focused on budgets, health care and the economy. In the two-hour debate Thursday night, there was not a word about terrorism, war or the nuclear deal with Iran. The only glimmer of foreign policy discussion was about the European Union and that was about whether the U.K. should remain an EU member at all. Ari Schapiro, NPR News, London.

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