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Britons vote in election expected to propel Labour to power

July 4, 2024 5:38 PM IST

Rishi Sunak | Labour Party | Conservatives | Britons | Voting in Britain

Britons were 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, voted early with his wife, Akshata Murty, in the electoral district of Richmond in northern England that he represents in parliament. Starmer cast his ballot around 0830 GMT with his wife in his north London constituency.

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.

Voting ends at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) when an exit poll will give the first indication 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 heartlandsin southern England.

PROMISE OF CHANGE

Starmer could also benefit from a Labour recovery in Scotland after the Scottish National Party embarked on its own self-destructive path following a funding scandal.

But Starmer may find his fortunes more sorely tested in Downing Street.

His campaign was built around a one-word promise of ‘Change’, tapping into anger at the state of stretched public services and falling living standards. But he will have few levers to pull, with the tax burden set to hit its highest since 1949 and net debt almost equivalent to annual economic output.

Starmer has consistently warned that he will not be able to fix anything quickly, and his party has courted international investors to help address the challenges.

Sunak has argued that his 20 months in charge have set the economy on an upward path and Labour should not be allowed to put that in jeopardy.

(Reuters)

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Last updated on: 13th July 2024