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Labour set for landslide win

The poll released moments after polls closed indicates that Labour leader Keir Starmer will be the country’s next prime minister…reports Asian Lite News

An exit poll published on Thursday suggested the Labour Party was headed for a huge majority in Britain’s election, riding a wave of frustration with 14 years of Conservative rule.

The poll released moments after polls closed on Thursday indicates that Labour leader Keir Starmer will be the country’s next prime minister.

Britain’s exit 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 final result. Full results will come in over the next hours.

Labour’s apparent victory comes against a gloomy backdrop of economic malaise, mounting distrust in institutions and a fraying social fabric.

A jaded electorate looks to have delivered a crushing verdict on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, which has been in power since 2010.

“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-migrant “take our country back” sentiment and undercut support for the Conservatives, who already faced dismal prospects.

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

In Henley-on-Thames, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) 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.”

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 UK’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.”

The first part of the day was sunny in much of the country — favorable weather to get people to the polls.

In the first hour polls were open, Sunak made the short journey from his home to vote at Kirby Sigston Village Hall in his Richmond constituency in northern England. He arrived with his wife, Akshata Murty, and walked hand-in-hand into the village hall, which is surrounded by rolling fields.

The center-left Labour Party led by Keir Starmer has had a steady and significant lead in opinion polls for months, but its leaders have warned against taking the election result for granted, worried their supporters will stay home.

“Change. Today, you can vote for it,” he wrote Thursday on the X social media platform.

A couple of hours after posting that message, Starmer walked hand-in-hand with his wife, Victoria, into a polling place in the Kentish Town section of London to cast his vote. He left through a back door out of sight of a crowd of residents and journalists who had gathered.

Labour has not set pulses racing with its pledges to get the sluggish economy growing, invest in infrastructure and make Britain a “clean energy superpower.”

But nothing has really gone wrong in its campaign, either. The party has won the support of large chunks of the business community and endorsements from traditionally conservative newspapers, including the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun tabloid, which praised Starmer for “dragging his party back to the center ground of British politics.”

The Conservatives have acknowledged that Labour appears headed for victory.

In a message to voters on Wednesday, Sunak said that “if the polls are to be believed, the country could wake up tomorrow to a Labour supermajority ready to wield their unchecked power.” He urged voters to back the Conservatives to limit Labour’s power.

Former Labour candidate Douglas Beattie, author of the book “How Labour Wins (and Why it Loses),” said Starmer’s “quiet stability probably chimes with the mood of the country right now.”

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have been plagued by gaffes. The campaign got off to an inauspicious start when rain drenched Sunak as he made the announcement outside 10 Downing St. Then, Sunak went home early from commemorations in France marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Several Conservatives close to Sunak are being investigated over suspicions they used inside information to place bets on the date of the election before it was announced.

Sunak has struggled to shake off the taint of political chaos and mismanagement that’s gathered around the Conservatives.

But for many voters, the lack of trust applies not just to the governing party, but to politicians in general. Farage has leaped into that breach.

The centrist Liberal Democrats and environmentalist Green Party also want to sweep up disaffected voters.

“I don’t know who’s for me as a working person,” said Michelle Bird, a port worker in Southampton on England’s south coast who was undecided about whether to vote Labour or Conservative. “I don’t know whether it’s the devil you know or the devil you don’t.”

What will UK foreign policy look like under Labour?

The first month of a Keir Starmer premiership will be a whirlwind of international diplomacy including meetings with US President Joe Biden and European leaders.

His first steps on the world stage will be just days away, at the NATO 75th anniversary summit being held in Washington next Tuesday to Thursday.

Starmer will then play host at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, in central England, on July 18, at a European Political Community meeting, with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz expected.

Labour, out of power since 2010, has pledged a foreign policy of “progressive realism,” seeing a more volatile world “as it is not as we would want it to be,” said David Lammy, who is expected to become foreign secretary.

The party has also pledged to “make Brexit work” and seek “an ambitious” security pact with the the European Union.  Here is a rundown of how a Labour government could approach the major international issues it faces.

Labour would undertake a “full audit” across all government departments of the UK’s relationship with China to “set the direction and course” of its China policy, Lammy told reporters this week. Starmer last year said the UK needed to “wean itself off” China on issues like trade, commerce and technology while acknowledging the importance of being able to cooperate on issues such as tackling climate change.

The challenge will be to balance the UK’s trade and economic interests with security imperatives. That could be complicated by a possible return of Donald Trump in Washington after the US presidential election in November.

Trump would be expected to ramp up pressure on allies to be tougher with Beijing. Labour says it is committed to recognizing a Palestinian state “as a contribution to a renewed peace process which results in a two-state solution.”

But it has not set out any timescale for doing so. Other commitments include pushing for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages and an increase in the amount of aid getting into Gaza.

Starmer has pledged to work with France’s far-right National Rally (RN) party if it wins power. “I will work with any government in Europe and across the world if we are elected… For me, that’s what serious government is about,” he said.

He said both bilateral deals with France and agreements with the whole EU, which the UK voted to leave in 2016 leading to a messy divorce, were important to address the issue of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.

Pressed on RN leader Marine Le Pen’s preference for bilateral deals over EU-wide ones, Starmer said the two were not mutually exclusive.

He said existing bilateral agreements with France needed to be strengthened and improved “particularly in relation to smashing the gangs that are running the vile trade of putting people into boats.”

“But there are also EU measures,” he added. “The security agreement we want with the EU when it comes to dealing with smuggling gangs is really important.”

The UK has been one of Kyiv’s staunchest supporters and has provided money, weapons and troop training to help it repel Russia’s invasion.

Labour have stressed continued support for Ukraine if they win, and Starmer would be expected to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky early to reaffirm that message in person.

Starmer has said a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is “simply not an issue” at the moment and described him as “the aggressor in Ukraine.”

“The most important thing is to be absolutely clear that our support for Ukraine is on a united front in this country,” he said.

A strategic defense review would be carried out within the first year of government to set out a path to an increase in defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP.

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