Domestic issues dominate campaign
By CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney
LONDON, England (CNN) -- When UK Prime Minister Tony Blair launched his Labour Party's election campaign for a second term in office, it was, he said, to build on the achievements of the last four years.
"This is a manifesto that takes the next steps to building a strong economy, a strong society and a strong Britain," Blair said.
The opposition Conservatives, or Tories, based their campaign on the slogan "Common Sense," playing on the public's fears that in the face of an expanding Europe, Britain's very identity is at stake.
"There is a choice. There is no excuse for giving up on Britain," said Conservative leader William Hague. "We are surrendering to the European Union our ability to run our own affairs."
Only a Conservative government, argued Hague, can save the British pound and with it, British sovereignty.
Labour has downplayed Europe, and this traditionally divisive issue has not made as much of an impact in this election as in recent years.
"There is no majority in Britain for leaving the European Union, so we are in," said Fred Halliday of the London School of Economics. "Secondly, people realise that there are trading benefits, long-term travel benefits from going in to the euro at some point in the future."
International affairs in general have played very little part in a campaign dominated by the economy, public services and taxes. "Labour has said the Conservatives want to go down a George Bush path, they want to cut taxation in order to cut services, said Halliday. "And the sense (is) that the British majority favour reasonably high levels of taxation, broadly speaking 40 percent, in return for good services which they haven't got, but hope to get."
Likewise, other traditional Tory issues such as law and order, race relations and asylum seekers have failed to make their mark.
For the smaller Liberal Democrat party, this election has propelled its young leader, Charles Kennedy, into the political spotlight.
"Three simple words -- freedom, justice and honesty. These sum up what the Liberal Democrats stand for," Kennedy said.
His affable personality has gone down well on the campaign trail, but Britain's first-past-the post electoral system means Kennedy's charisma and middle-of the-road policies are unlikely to translate into more Liberal Democrat seats at Westminster.
The weather may also prove to have been an issue. Labour's campaign, it would seem, has benefited from the recent warm spell. The long, cold winter of foot-and-mouth disease and burning pyres -- which postponed this election a month -- is almost forgotten, even as new cases of the disease continue to be discovered.
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