Britain votes: May eyes win despite Labour surge

Vidya Ram London June 8 | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 08, 2017
British Prime Minister Theresa May. File Photo


Youth votes turn crucial, as terror attacks and waning concern on Brexit deal Conservatives a blow

Britain voted on Thursday, in an election in which turnout, particularly among the young, could play an important role in shaping the outcome.

While polls still suggest a Conservative victory, the party’s lead has narrowed sharply in recent weeks, putting at stake the validation of the government’s Brexit strategy that Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped to secure at the ballot box by further increasing her government’s majority.

“If I lose just six seats in this election, the government will lose its majority and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of Europe in just a few days time,” saidMay in a statement published on Thursday morning. “I need your support to strengthen my hand as I negotiate for Britain in Europe.”

When calling the election, May had hoped that her party will be able to increase its 17-seat majority by both gaining seats from the UK Independence Party as well as benefiting from divisions within the Labour that had appeared to put many off.

Conservatives vs Labour

While the UKIP had done well in many Conservative strongholds in 2015, recent local elections had shown support for the party had collapsed as the Conservatives became the party of Brexit voters, with its focus on leaving the single market and customs union, and its tough immigration proposals.

However, what it failed to count on was the strong campaign run by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who, running on a campaign targeted at the “Many not the few”, has inspired those fed up with years of austerity under both Labour and Conservative governments, while at the time bringing into the fold many within the party who had been sceptical about him at the start.

The Conservatives have suffered a number of blows — with the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester raising questions about their track record on security and foreign policy, and a proposal on raising the costs of social care for the elderly potentially alienating those within one of its core constituencies.

The result has been that Brexit has been less of a dominating issues that the Conservatives would have hoped for.

“I am very proud of our campaign,” said Corbyn, pictured out his local polling booth in London, after he had cast his ballot. “We cannot continue with these levels of inequality and injustice in our society. “Labour will build a Britain that works for the many,” he said at a rally in London on Wednesday evening.

Still, polls give the Conservatives a comfortable lead: A ComRes poll for the Independent newspaper late on Wednesday put the Conservatives 10 points ahead of Labour. The same poll puts the personal ratings of May at 48 per cent and that of Corbyn at 39 per cent.

While Corbyn’s personal ratings have risen in recent weeks, May’s have fallen, putting into question the party’s strategy of focussing the campaign around her and her track record: the campaign often emphasised “Theresa May and her team” as well as its strength and stability.

However, with polls in the UK failing to have predicted the outcome of the 2015 general election and last year’s Brexit referendum, uncertainty remains, with voter turnout, potentially playing a significant role.

“It could be very significant. The turnout among voters could well determine whether we have a clear Tory or a close Tory win — the group for which that is particularly uncertain is younger voters who are in general much more pro Labour,” says polling expert Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University.

Shift away from Europe

Turnout at the 2015 election was 66.4 per cent, but is expected to be higher this time, amid high levels of support for Labour and Corbyn personally.

The polls will also put to the test the significance of Brexit, and the fortunes of the Liberal Democrat Party, which has pegged its campaign around a commitment to holding a second referendum on the terms of the deal negotiated with the European Union.

The ComRes poll has put support for the Liberal Democrats at 9 per cent, suggesting that Britain will not see the trend witnessed in other parts of Europe (such as France), with a shift away from the mainstream parties.

Polls opened at 7am local time (11.30 am India time), with many building up large queues as people prepared to cast their vote ahead of the voting day.

Polls will close at 10 pm, with the first exit polls coming out at that time potentially giving the clearest indication of where the results will be headed.

The first constituencies will declare their results by just before 11 pm, with some racing to be the first to be able to declare. The rest of the country will declare in the hours that follow into the morning.

The election counts on 46.9 million registered voters across 650 constituencies in the country.

In Southall, local issues override Brexit concerns

On a cold and drizzly June morning, a steady stream of people trickled in and out of the polling booth near the Southall station in London, home to one of the country’s biggest South Asian communities.

While the snap election was called by the Conservative government to strengthen its hand in Brexit negotiations, other issues have quickly taken over, as demonstrated by some of those emerging from the polling station.

“For me its not about Brexit but about local issues,” said Gita, a 70-year-old retired nurse, who is a long-standing supporter of Ealing Southall’s Labour MP Virendra Sharma. Gita said that plans to cut services at the local Ealing Hospital was a top priority for her and others in the constituency.

Ahmad Zubair, a father from Hyderabad who has lived in Southall for 12 years and who works for the postal service, said he was positive about a lot of the initiatives in the Labour manifesto, in particular its commitment to reversing the privatisation of the postal service Royal Mail.

“I want to change the Prime Minister,” said Amarjit, a 68-year-old woman, who highlighted concern about cuts to the education system, and NHS as the major issues for her.

“This was an unwarranted and untimely snap election called because they wanted a thumping majority for Brexit negotiations, but the public have reacted on the basis that Brexit on its own isn’t an issue, but that health, education, housing and benefits are major issues for them” said Sharma, the MP, who won by a majority of 18,760 in 2015, and has been the MP since 2007. He pointed out in particular to the local campaign to defend Ealing Hospital against cuts to its services. “We will be fighting not only to retain services but to bring back services,” he said.

Ironically, the issue of Brexit was not on top of the agenda even for a supporter of the UK Independence Party. Carlton, a 68-year-old originally from Chennai, said he was voting for the party because of concerns about immigration from outside the EU.

Published on June 08, 2017
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