Nick Clegg says poll shows next election 'not shoo-in'
Mr Clegg: The British people are the kingmakers
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has welcomed a new opinion poll in The Observer that he says suggests the next general election will not be a "shoo-in".
The Ipsos Mori poll of 1,006 people suggests the Tories are on 37%, Labour on 31% and the Lib Dems on 17%.
If repeated at a general election it would result in a hung Parliament.
Mr Clegg told the BBC there were some big issues to be decided and "it is a really good thing that this is not some sort of shoo-in general election".
He added: "We have huge challenges as a country - economic, environmental, social, what to do with our rotten state of politics, so it's a great thing that we are going to have a major debate where a lot is at stake."
He was asked, on the Andrew Marr Show, whether he would always seek to work first with whichever of the other two parties had the most MPs if the election resulted in no single party having a clear majority.
Clegg - public are 'kingmakers'
Mr Clegg said: "I think it is an inevitable fact, it is just stating the obvious, the party which has got the strongest mandate from the British people will have the first right to seek to govern.
"I start from a very simple first principle - it is not Gordon Brown or David Cameron or Nick Clegg who are kingmakers in British politics - it's the British people.
"So the votes of the British people are what should determine what happens afterwards. Whichever party have the strongest mandate from the British people, it seems to me obvious in a democracy they have the first right to seek to try and govern, either on their own or with others."
Mr Clegg, who said Mr Brown had "failed" as a war leader over Afghanistan, said one of the "great political tragedies in the past 10 years" was there had been a government spending a "huge amount of time" trying to justify an unjustified war in Iraq rather than "justifying a justified mission in Afghanistan".
On the same programme Conservative leader David Cameron said he had "never believed" the election was a "shoo-in or a foregone conclusion".
He said that while people may be disillusioned with the government - and some with politics as a whole - voters would not "hand" power over, the Conservatives would have to work for it.
Asked about his views on a hung Parliament, Mr Cameron said "anything is better" than another five years of Labour.
'Everything to fight for'
Meanwhile Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told Sky News that the narrowing opinion poll gap may be the result of people "recognising the extraordinary leadership Gordon Brown has given" in dealing with the financial crisis and recession.
He said the election would see a "fundamental choice" for voters and "we will fight to win... we have everything to fight for".
The opinion poll suggests that despite the improvement in Labour's position, Mr Brown's personal ratings remain poor, with 34% of people satisfied with his performance and 59% dissatisfied.
The equivalent figures in the poll - of 1,006 people by telephone between 13 and 15 November - for Mr Cameron are 48% and 35%.
The next general election has to be held by June 2010, with May seen as the most likely date. A hung Parliament is where no single party has enough MPs to win a vote against all other MPs in the Commons.
The last election to produce a hung Parliament was in 1974, and resulted in a second election later in the same year.
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