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Posters in London on Wednesday expressed anger over perceived economic injustice, with experts predicting hard times ahead

By JOHN F. BURNS and LANDON THOMAS Jr. | NYT | Published: May 5, 2010

LONDON — Even with rioters on the streets of Athens and the 16 countries using the euro threatened with mounting turmoil, the economy remained the most frequently — and least candidly — discussed topic here as the three main parties entered the last hours of a monthlong general election campaign.

Much of the wrangling centered on arguments about which party was hiding most from the voters on the true state of the economy and its plans for dealing with it. With government deficits in Britain second in Europe only to those of Greece, some analysts even suggested that this might be a good election to lose.

But one conclusion seemed clear: Whoever wins will be forced to make deep and unpopular cuts, a task made all the more difficult if the closely contested election produces, as many commentators have forecast, a hung Parliament or a fragile coalition arrangement that might delay important economic decisions.

“This is a ticking time bomb,” said Ruth Lea, an economic adviser at the Arbuthnot Banking Group who worked at the Treasury in London in 1976 when Britain, in its worst financial crisis since World War II, was forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for assistance. “If the next government does not come to grips with this, the I.M.F. will have to come in. I remember, it was very, very humiliating.”

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