Tory lead nar­rows as poll looms

Cam­paign of un­ex­pected twists

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

BRI­TISH politi­cians raced around the coun­try yes­ter­day, the fi­nal day of cam­paign­ing for a par­lia­men­tary elec­tion to­day that will de­fine Bri­tain’s ap­proach to leav­ing the EU but has been over­shad­owed by two mil­i­tant at­tacks in as many weeks.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and her hus­band Philip were greeted with jeers of “Vote Labour” as they vis­ited a Lon­don meat mar­ket.

Later, she en­joyed a warmer re­cep­tion 110km away at a bowls club in Southamp­ton, while Jeremy Cor­byn, leader of the op­po­si­tion Labour Party, started the day in the Scot­tish city of Glas­gow.

May un­ex­pect­edly called the June 8 elec­tion seven weeks ago, seek­ing to boost her par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity ahead of the start of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and to win more time to deal with the im­pact of the EU di­vorce.

But the cam­paign has seen a num­ber of un­ex­pected twists, in­clud­ing the dead­li­est mil­i­tant at­tack in Bri­tain since 2005 and the shrink­ing of May’s once com­mand­ing lead of over 20 per­cent­age points in opin­ion polls.

At­tacks by Is­lamist mil­i­tants in Manch­ester and Lon­don threw the spot­light on se­cu­rity, while May was forced to back­track on a so­cial care pol­icy pledge in a move that pun­dits said was un­prece­dented in Bri­tish elec­tion cam­paign his­tory.

“Give me your back­ing in the polling sta­tion to bat­tle for Bri­tain in Brus­sels,” May said. “Get those ne­go­ti­a­tions wrong and the con­se­quences will be dire.”

May has re­peat­edly said only she can de­liver the right deal for Bri­tain and that op­po­nents would lead its £1.93 tril­lion (R32 tril­lion) econ­omy to ruin in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU.

Poll­sters ex­pect May to win a ma­jor­ity. But if she fails to beat hand­somely the 12-seat ma­jor­ity her pre­de­ces­sor David Cameron won in 2015, her elec­toral gam­ble will have failed and her au­thor­ity will be un­der­mined both in­side her Con­ser­va­tive Party and at talks with the 27 other EU lead­ers.

When May stunned po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and fi­nan­cial mar­kets by call­ing the snap elec­tion, her poll rat­ings in­di­cated she could be on course to win a land­slide ma­jor­ity on a par with the 1983 ma­jor­ity of 144 won by Mar­garet Thatcher.

But May’s poll lead has shrunk over the past three weeks. The lat­est polls put her party any­where be­tween 12 to 1 point ahead. One pro­jec­tion said she would win a ma­jor­ity of 64 seats.

There will be an exit poll as soon as vot­ing ends. The first hand­ful of seat re­sults are then ex­pected to be an­nounced by 11pm lo­cal time, with the vast ma­jor­ity of the 650 con­situen­cies due to an­nounce re­sults by to­mor­row morn­ing.

Bri­tain’s top-sell­ing news­pa­per, The Sun, urged its read­ers to back the Con­ser­va­tives. “The Tories alone are com­mit­ted to see­ing Brexit through in full,” the Sun said in an edi­to­rial.

The right-wing Daily Mail said a vote for May was a “vote to save Bri­tain”.

But op­po­si­tion Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn, a so­cial­ist once writ­ten off by many as a no-hoper lead­ing his party to its worst elec­tion de­feat, has run a strong cam­paign.

The Daily Mir­ror urged vot­ers to “give hope a chance” and back Cor­byn in to­day’s vote.

The last week of cam­paign­ing has been held in the shadow of an at­tack by three Is­lamist mil­i­tants who on Satur­day drove a van into pedes­tri­ans on Lon­don Bridge be­fore at­tack­ing rev­ellers in bars and restau­rants with knives, killing at least seven peo­ple and in­jur­ing dozens.

Po­lice hunt­ing for a miss­ing French­man found a body in the river, which could lift the toll to eight.

Se­cu­rity has been in­creased na­tion­wide to counter any threat and the is­sue has dom­i­nated the fi­nal weeks of cam­paign­ing.

Cor­byn has put the Con­ser­va­tives on the back foot over the mat­ter, crit­i­cis­ing May for a drop in po­lice num­bers in her time as in­te­rior min­is­ter. May hit back with a pledge to crack down on Is­lamist ex­trem­ism.

PIC­TURE: LAU­REN HUR­LEY / PA WIRE

Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn dur­ing a Gen­eral Elec­tion cam­paign event in West­min­ster, cen­tral Lon­don.

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