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Labour faces tough sell in UK poll battleground

By Mohammed Abbas

CRAWLEY, England (Reuters) - With voters disgusted by sleaze allegations and political bickering, Britain's ruling Labour party has an uphill battle clinging to power in crucial parliamentary seats such as Crawley in southern England.

The center-left party has been in government for 13 years, but has only a tiny majority in the area, some 30 miles south of London, one of several so-called marginal constituencies seen as decisive for the May 6 national vote.

"I can't think of anything worse than another five years of Labour ... Sleaze brought down the last Conservative government and it should have brought down this one," said health worker Lindsey Hales, 57, referring to Labour's main rival, the right-of-center Conservative party.

Labour leader Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the election date on Tuesday, and like the Conservatives before losing power in 1997, his party has been buffeted by a steady drip of stories alleging political misdeeds, such as peddling influence for money or inflating expense claims.

Few voters in Crawley, a busy commercial hub between London and the south coast, gave any positive reasons for voting, other than dislodging Labour.

"Get rid of the lot of them because they're diabolical," said one man on why he would vote, declining to be named.

The Conservatives, who have consistently led in opinion polls, have also been implicated by allegations of sleaze, but for many voters in Crawley, close to London's Gatwick airport, the mud has stuck to Labour.

Those more favorable to the party, or who have not yet decided how to vote, said they had seen few concrete policies from any side and had yet to be convinced.

"The economy and jobs are the most important issues, but I don't have a lot of faith in either of the main parties. The Liberal Democrats are probably the most sensible ... Labour is still an option," said insurance worker Kevin Fisher, 50, referring to Britain's third, smaller party.

An Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by Reuters last month showed the Conservatives still lag Labour in the marginal constituencies they must win to secure a clearcut election victory.

Campaigning is set to begin in earnest now the election has been called, and cutting Britain's massive budget deficit is expected to take center stage.

Political parties have so far been coy in identifying where and how deeply they would cut spending.

"All the main parties are the same. Whoever gets in, will do the same thing, cut spending and bring taxes. They're not being open or honest enough about it," said an engineer of Sri Lankan origin, 35, who gave his name as Thusha.

Instead, voters said, parties had been busy scoring political points and bickering.

"I want lower taxes, less bullshit. They're just fighting with each other," said a man who declined to be named who works in a recruitment agency, adding that jobs had dried up.

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