Britain’s Labour on track for landslide victory amid anger with Conservatives

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LONDON — Britain’s Labour Party headed for a landslide victory Friday in a parliamentary election, an exit poll suggested, as voters punished the governing Conservatives after 14 years of economic and political upheaval.

The poll released moments after voting closed indicated that center-left Labour’s leader Keir Starmer will be the country’s next prime minister. He will face a jaded electorate impatient for change against a gloomy backdrop of economic malaise, mounting distrust in institutions and a fraying social fabric.

As thousands of electoral staff tallied millions of ballot papers at counting centers across the country, the Conservatives absorbed the shock of a historic defeat that would leave the depleted party in disarray and likely spark a contest to replace Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as leader.

Boxes of votes are emptied ready to be counted for the British Parliamentary constituency of Holborn and St Pancras where the Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is standing for election, in London, Thursday, July 4, 2024. Britain's Labour Party appears to be headed for a huge majority in the 2024 UK election, an exit poll suggested. The poll released moments after voting closed indicated that Labour leader Keir Starmer will be the country's next prime minister. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Boxes of votes are emptied ready to be counted for the British Parliamentary constituency of Holborn and St Pancras where the Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is standing for election in London on Thursday.  (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

“Nothing has gone well in the last 14 years,” said London voter James Erskine, who was optimistic for change in the hours before polls closed. “I just see this as the potential for a seismic shift, and that’s what I’m hoping for.”

While the suggested result appears to buck recent rightward electoral shifts in Europe, including in France and Italy, many of those same populist undercurrents flow in Britain. Reform UK leader Nigel Farage has roiled the race with his party’s anti-immigrant “take our country back” sentiment and undercut support for the Conservatives, who already faced dismal prospects.

Labour is on course to win about 410 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons and the Conservatives 131, according to the exit poll. That would be the fewest seats for the Tories in their nearly two-century history and would leave the party in disarray.

In a sign of the volatile public mood and anger at the system, some smaller parties appeared to have done well, including the centrist Liberal Democrats and Reform UK. A key unknown was whether Farage’s hard-right party could convert its success in grabbing attention into more than a handful of seats in Parliament.

Members of the media in central London watch an exit poll giving the Labour Party a huge majority in the 2024 General Election, at the headquarters of Camden Council at 5 Pancras Square in Camden, north London, during the count for the Holborn and St Pancras constituency, Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)
Members of the media in central London watch an exit poll giving the Labour Party a huge majority in the 2024 General Election, at the headquarters of Camden Council in Camden, north London on Thursday. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Former Conservative leader William Hague said the poll indicated “a catastrophic result in historic terms for the Conservative Party.”

Still, Labour politicians, inured to years of disappointment, were cautious.

“The exit poll is encouraging, but obviously we don’t have any of the results yet,” deputy leader Angela Rayner told Sky News.

The poll is conducted by pollster Ipsos and asks people at scores of polling stations to fill out a replica ballot showing how they have voted. It usually provides a reliable though not exact projection of the outcome.

Britons vote on paper ballots, marking their choice in pencil, that are then counted by hand. Final results are expected by Friday morning.

Britain has experienced a run of turbulent years — some of it of the Conservatives’ own making and some of it not — that has left many voters pessimistic about their country’s future. The U.K.’s exit from the European Union followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine battered the economy, while lockdown-breaching parties held by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff caused widespread anger.

Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss, rocked the economy further with a package of drastic tax cuts and lasted just 49 days in office. Rising poverty and cuts to state services have led to gripes about “Broken Britain.”

Hundreds of communities were locked in tight contests in which traditional party loyalties come second to more immediate concerns about the economycrumbling infrastructure and the National Health Service.

In Henley-on-Thames, about 40 miles west of London, voters like Patricia Mulcahy, who is retired, sensed the nation was looking for something different. The community, which normally votes Conservative, may change its stripes this time.

“The younger generation are far more interested in change,’’ Mulcahy said. “So, I think whatever happens in Henley, in the country, there will be a big shift. But whoever gets in, they’ve got a heck of a job ahead of them. It’s not going to be easy.”



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