Sunday, July 14, 2024

Britons vote in poll expected to deliver Labour Party landslide

Britons vote in poll expected to deliver Labour Party landslide
July 4, 2024 Web Desk

LONDON (Reuters) - Britons began voting on Thursday in a parliamentary election that is expected to bring Keir Starmer's Labour Party to power, sweeping away Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Conservatives after 14 often turbulent years.

Opinion polls put Starmer's centre-left party on course for a landslide victory but also suggest many voters simply want change after a period of infighting and turmoil under the Conservatives that led to five prime ministers in eight years. This means Starmer, a 61-year-old former human rights lawyer, could take office with one of the biggest to-do lists in British history but without a groundswell of support or the financial resources to tackle it.

"Today, Britain can begin a new chapter," Starmer told voters in a statement on Thursday. "We cannot afford five more years under the Conservatives. But change will only happen if you vote Labour." The country's 40,000 polling stations opened at 0600 GMT. Sunak, 44, was among those to vote early. He was pictured leaving a polling station in his Richmond constituency in northern England, holding hands with his wife Akshata Murty.

Having called the election months earlier than expected, Sunak has in recent weeks abandoned his call for a fifth consecutive Conservative victory, switching instead to warning of the dangers of an unchallenged Labour Party in parliament. Sunak issued a fresh rallying cry to voters for election day, saying a Labour government would hike taxes, hamper economic recovery and leave Britain more vulnerable at a time of geopolitical tension, charges Labour deny.

"They will do lasting damage to our country and our economy - just like they did the last time they were in power," Sunak said on Thursday. "Don't let that happen." Polls were due to close at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) when an exit poll will give the first sign of the outcome. Detailed official results are expected in the early hours of Friday.

PUNISHING GOVERNMENT

If the opinion polls are correct, Britain will follow other European countries in punishing their governments after a cost of living crisis that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Unlike France it looks set to move to the centre left and not further right. Labour has held a poll lead of between 15 and 20 points since shortly after Sunak was chosen by his lawmakers in October 2022 to replace Liz Truss who resigned after 44 days, having sparked a bond market meltdown and a collapse in sterling.

Modelling by pollsters predicts Labour is on course for one of the biggest election victories in British history, with a likely majority in parliament that would exceed those achieved by Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher, although a high number of voters are undecided and turnout could be low. Such an outcome would have been unthinkable at Britain's last election in 2019 when Boris Johnson won a large victory for the Conservatives, with politicians predicting that the party would be in power for at least 10 years as Labour was finished.

Starmer, the former chief prosecutor of England and Wales, took over Labour from veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn after it suffered its worst defeat for 84 years in 2019, and dragged it back to the centre. At the same time, the Conservatives in Westminster have imploded, ripped apart by scandal under Johnson and the rancour that followed the vote to leave the European Union, and a failure to deliver on the demands of its broad 2019 voter base.

While Johnson destroyed the party's reputation for integrity, Truss eroded its long-held economic credibility, leaving Sunak to steady the ship. During his time inflation returned to target from its 41-year high of 11.1% and he resolved some Brexit tensions, but the polls have not budged. Sunak's election campaign has been hit by a string of gaffes. He announced the vote in driving rain, his early departure from a D-Day event in France angered veterans, and allegations of election gambling among aides reignited talk of scandal.

The unexpected arrival of Nigel Farage to lead the right-wing Reform UK has also eaten into the Conservatives' vote, while the centrist Liberal Democrats are predicted to fare well in the party's affluent heartlands in southern England.