Tory lead narrows as poll looms
Campaign of unexpected twists
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.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during a General Election campaign event in Westminster, central London.