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Meet the candidates for prime minister

One was a rowdy college student. Another played rugby. And a third drunkenly burned down a cactus farm.

Each of the leaders of Britain’s three major parties has his fair share of quirks. And now, with 24-hour news channels (not to mention YouTube) seizing even the slightest gaffes, observers say the personalities of the leaders matter more in this election than ever before.

That and the fact that they’re all channeling Barack Obama in their bid for prime minister.

In less than a week, voters in the U.K. will send one of these men to Downing Street:

Gordon Brown, Labour PartyGordon Brown, Labour

Leader since: 2007
Age: 59
Career before politics: Lecturer, journalist
Family: Sarah (wife), two sons, one daughter (deceased)
Education: Edinburgh University
Facebook Fans: 8,008

Obama-like qualities: While no one would mistake Brown’s buttoned-down sobriety for Obama’s natural magnetism on the stump, some observers have suggested that the British prime minister may be more sympathetic to Obama’s politics than either of his rivals. Obama’s stimulus package, for one, is a page out of the Labour Party’s economic handbook, which Brown designed and implemented as Tony Blair’s chief financial adviser in the 1990s. Brown has also been steadfast in his support of the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan, deploying an additional 500 British soldiers to the front even before Obama had decided on the increase. In return, the president has endorsed Brown’s call for coordinated stimulus efforts among the world’s leading economies, and voiced support for his effort to rein in the global financial industry.

Famous gaffe: Brown may have had his “Joe the Plumber” moment last week when he met Gillian Duffy, 65, at a campaign stop in Rochdale. Duffy confronted Brown as he was approaching his motorcade, and asked why so many Eastern European immigrants were “flocking” to Britain. Later, as his car drove off, Brown complained to an aide that Duffy was “bigoted,” and that the encounter was a “disaster.” His comments were caught on a live microphone and quickly went viral. He later apologized to Duffy, but the episode became an embarrassment for Brown and his struggling Labour Party.

Youthful indiscretion: Brown has admitted to drinking “a bit” in college and, when pressed by one interviewer, allowed that he routinely drank as much as six pints a night. As a student activist in the early 1970s, Brown protested the University of Edinburgh’s ties to academic institutions in South Africa and Rhodesia that denied full civil and political equality to blacks under Apartheid. As a result, Brown earned the moniker “Red Gordon” for his leftist beliefs. To many Britons, though, his most notable folly remains his overzealousness on the Rugby field. As a freshman in college his retinas were detached during a rugby injury, leaving him blind in one eye.

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