Gordon Brown (Photo: AP)

In Britain’s closest election in decades, Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces off Thursday against opposition leader David Cameron and charismatic rising star Nick Clegg.

Voters want a leader most likely to dig the U.K. out of its recession and restore blue-collar jobs. Britain, after all, is facing the most drastic spending cuts since World War II.

Cameron’s Tories seem likely to win the popular vote, but Brown, whose popularity suffers as the economy deteriorates, could remain prime minister if his Labour Party takes more seats. Both parties may be clamoring in the end for a coalition with Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.

The Tories were leading with 33 percent support, according to a poll Monday. Labour and the Lib Dems were tied with 28 percent each.

Whatever the outcome, Thursday’s race will put Britain’s convoluted electoral system to the test. “What we might be talking about is a once-in-a-century type of change, which is phenomenal,” said Victoria Honeyman, a political analyst at the University of Leeds.

The Labour Party
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, 59
Good for him: His Labour party, which now holds 345 Parliament seats, could maintain power and keep Brown as boss, despite how he fares in popular votes.
Bad for him: Lost major propriety points when a live mic caught him calling a voter “a bigoted woman.” Remains tied to Labour’s failures, including the expenses scandal and support for unpopular Iraq war. His staffers earlier this year reported Brown to an anti-bullying hotline.

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The Conservative Party (The Tories)
David Cameron, 43
Good for him: Is willing to lead a minority government and has put forth a strong plan to fight the deficit.
Bad for him: A posh background — he attended Eton and his wife is related to King Charles II — isolates him from working-class voters worried for their livelihoods.

The Liberal Democrats
Nick Clegg, 43
Good for him: Known as the U.K.’s Barack, Clegg was the star of Britain’s first U.S.-style TV debates. Vows to revamp electoral system. Supported by actors Colin Firth and Daniel Radcliffe.
Bad for him: Uppercrust upbringing, which included top schools and a year of study in the U.S., mirrors that of Cameron. His plan to offer amnesty to some illegal immigrants heavily criticized. The Lib Dems lost momentum after the debates.

(With AP)