UK polls today opened with about 46 million eligible voters expected to cast their ballot to choose between Prime Minister Theresa May and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn under the looming shadow of the two deadly terror attacks that recently rocked the country. The odds seem to be in favour of May holding on to her job as the British Prime Minister who called for snap polls 52 days ago. Polls close at 10 p m UK time (2.30 am IST), with results expected to begin rolling in within an hour or so after voting finishes. May, 60, called the election three years earlier than scheduled ahead of what are expected to be tough negotiations with the European Union over Britain’s exit from the 28- member-bloc. More than 46 million people, including an estimated 1.5 million Indian-origin voters, are eligible to vote in what is the fourth major UK poll in three years, following the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2015 general election, and the 2016 Brexit vote.
It remains to be seen if the Conservative party leader’s decision to call a snap general election follows the forecast patterns of the latest opinion polls and betting odds or the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party is able to make a dent into her slim majority in the House of Commons. Corbyn, 68, has focussed on his party’s promise to spend more on health and education. “Never before has there been a clearer choice between the parties… a choice quite simply between hope and fear,” he said. The final pre-poll survey done by Comres for the Independent newspaper gives the Tories a 10-point lead over the Labour party.
May’s ruling Conservatives are on 44 per cent, Labour at 34 per cent, the Liberal Democrats at 9 per cent, with far- right UKIP at 5 per cent, the Scottish National Party (SNP) at 4 per cent and the Green Party at 2 per cent. This forecast is echoed in the nearly 100 million pounds expected to be bet on the outcome of the polls. “Generally, on average, the polls tend to point toward a fairly small Tory majority, whereas the betting is more optimistic of the prime minister landing a majority of around 70 seats,” said a betting expert at Ladbrokes, one of the UK’s leading bookmakers.
Betfair, another leading bookmaker, also views the Tories as the odds-on favourite to win the general election, with odds of 1/12. However, there are some pundits who point out that the pre-poll patterns are following similar trends as for the Brexit referendum vote in June 2016, the outcome of which had taken most pollsters by surprise. The betting odds being offering for a hung Parliament have also narrowed after some recent opinion polls had indicated the possibility of such an outcome. Officially, it takes 326 seats for an overall majority in the House of Commons. In the 2015 general election, then Prime Minister David Cameron led Conservatives had won 331 seats, giving the Tories a small but significant majority, and the Labour party won 232 seats.
The official exit poll at the close of voting at 10 pm local time on election night is traditionally expected to give an indication of which way the vote is likely to go. The constituency of Houghton and Sunderland South in north-east England has a history of being the first to declare the results, with the complete results expected to be clear by early on Friday morning. Sunderland is a traditional Labour party stronghold and the vote-share with which the party holds on to the seat in the region is often seen as a sign of things to come.
Brexit is expected to be the central factor behind voting patterns. All the major parties wrapped up their campaigning on Thursday with a last-ditch effort to swing undecided voters. May focussed on her central message of the “strong and stable leadership” that she can provide for Britain’s exit negotiations from the European Union (EU). “Brexit is the basis of everything. We need to secure our economy for the future, we need to ensure we are getting more jobs, better paid jobs, more opportunities for young people in this country.
We can do that if we get the Brexit negotiations right,” she said in one of her final speeches. The Liberal Democrats have been focused on their Remain- voting target seats, while the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) has stuck to its central message of ensuring there is no back-tracking on Brexit. The UK was recently rocked by two terror attacks. Seven people were killed on Saturday when three men aboard a van ploughed into pedestrians on London Bridge and went on a stabbing spree before being shot by police. The second attack took place on May 22 when 22 people were killed and 116 injured in a suicide bombing at Manchester Arena.