LONDON — British voters appear set to usher in the most divided parliament in generations, potentially ending the two-party dominance that has defined modern Britain and challenging the ability of the next government to tackle a financial hole that rivals the one in Greece.
For the first time since the 1970s, neither the Conservatives, who last held power in 1997, nor the ruling Labor Party is poised to win an outright majority in Thursday’s vote. Given the missteps by Prime Minister Gordon Brown — who called a widowed retiree a bigot in off-camera remarks last week — Labor in particular is bracing for what may be its biggest defeat since 1983, when Margaret Thatcher won a second term and the party was exiled from No. 10 Downing Street for another 14 years.
But the shake-up at the gothic House of Parliament could be even more profound. A roiling expenses scandal in which British taxpayers covered the bill for duck ponds and pornography is fanning voter outrage against politics as usual, opening the door for fresh-faced Nicholas Clegg, leader of the typically also-ran Liberal Democrats. Clegg, 44, has surged in the polls and is pressing for electoral reform that could end the duopoly on British power.