Nick Clegg hit out at Conservative claims that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for Gordon Brown as he unveiled his party’s plans to stimulate the green economy.

Responding on Monday morning to comments from David Cameron that a vote in the May 6 general election for any party other than the Tories could risk a Brown government, Mr Clegg said: “A vote for the Liberal Democrats is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a vote for the Liberal Democrats.”

Both Labour and the Conservatives are struggling to come to terms with the surprise surge in Lib Dem support after Mr Clegg emerged as the winner of Britain’s first televised “prime ministerial debate”.

Labour believes the Lib Dem revival – a YouGov poll in Monday’s Sun newspaper put Mr Clegg’s party ahead of the Tories – will primarily damage the Conservatives and on Monday Gordon Brown made only mild criticisms of the third party.

“I know a little about what it is like to have a short political honeymoon,” Mr Brown said at a campaign press conference, referring back to his brief love affair with the voters in the summer of 2007. “I wish him well with it.”

Mr Brown, flanked by Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson, said Labour would continue to focus on the economy, in a week that will see key data published on unemployment and first-quarter economic growth.

Meanwhile, David Cameron was also restrained in his attacks on Mr Clegg and has told his party to avoid attacking the Lib Dems in areas such as immigration and Europe and to stick firmly to the centre ground.

Mr Clegg admitted that if the current polls were replicated at the ballot box in the election, Labour could end up with the most seats even though it received the least votes of the main parties.

“The electoral system we’ve got is potty,” the Lib Dem leader said. “Any electoral system which, according to some hypothetical projections I’ve seen, could deliver a party with the most seats that actually comes third in the proportion of votes is hardly a model of democratic fairness.”

Mr Cameron, however, insisted that voting Conservative was the only way to get “real change”. He warned against the possibility of a hung parliament, telling an audience in south London: “Are we going to have real leadership that will bring change in our country or are we going to have uncertainty, fudge and division?”

The Tory leader’s warning that an inconclusive election result would be bad for Britain was backed up by a Financial Times survey, which suggested the world’s biggest investors view a hung parliament as the biggest threat to the markets.

Several polls over the weekend showed the Lib Dems running only a few points behind the Tories, while the YouGov poll for The Sun suggested they were in the lead.

Some within the Conservative party have encouraged Mr Cameron to attack Mr Clegg directly, but the Tory leader told The Guardian: “My response to all this is to redouble the positive.”

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