Image Source : REUTERS British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and his Labour rival Keir Starmer.

London: The United Kingdom is set to elect a new Prime Minister as voters go to the polls on Thursday, with the Labour Party widely predicted to rout incumbent PM Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives and end 14 years of turbulent Tory rule. Labour leader Keir Starmer, 61, a former chief prosecutor, is expected to take the reins of the next British government.

The Labour Party is on course to win the upcoming elections with a landslide majority, ending 14 years of Conservative rule, with a margin of 20 points in the opinion polls. Some opinion polls have predicted that Starmer could achieve a historic achievement with a greater victory margin than Tony Blair, under whom Labour won 418 seats in 1997. 

However, several surveys have shown that voters simply want a change in the midst of a broken healthcare system and a cost-of-living crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which means that Starmer, if he wins, will have a huge responsibility to tackle multiple crises but without a groundswell of support or the financial resources. “We cannot afford five more years under the Conservatives. But change will only happen if you vote Labour,” he said on Thursday.

When will the UK elections begin?

People throughout the United Kingdom will choose all 650 members of the House of Commons on July 4 for a term of up to five years. The party that commands a majority in the Commons, either alone or in coalition, will form the next government and its leader will be the prime minister. That means the results will determine the political direction of the government, between the right-wing Conservatives and the left-leaning Labour.

Both Sunak and Starmer will attempt to use the last hours of campaigning to drive their respective messages home before polling booths in the UK open at 7 am local time (11:30 am IST) on Thursday. Voting will continue till the booths close at 10 pm (2:30 am IST Friday) after which a traditional election night exit poll will give a clearer picture and who will emerge as a victor in the high-stakes contest.

Results from the UK general elections 2024 will start trickling in from 10 pm (2:30 am IST) onwards, with most of the constituency results expected by the early hours of Friday. A party needs a majority of 326 seats in the House of Commons to form the government. Blyth and Ashington is expected to be the first constituency to declare the results at an estimated time of 11:30 pm, followed by Basildon and Billericay.

Sunak’s widening pre-election problems

Sunak’s chances have been plagued with economic crises, infighting within the party, a controversy surrounding his abrupt departure from D-Day commemorations in France and a betting scandal that has all but put the brakes on his future as the British PM. A recent Telegraph poll showed that Sunak, 43, could be the first PM to lose his own seat in a general election.

The 43-year-old British Indian leader has in recent weeks abandoned his call for a fifth consecutive Conservative victory, switching instead to warning of the dangers of an unchallenged Labour Party in parliament, claiming that the left-wing party will raise taxes and hamper economic recovery. Under Sunak’s tenure, inflation returned to target from its 41-year high of 11.1 per cent, but lingering economic issues have failed to change his declining approval ratings.

The opinion polls, showing a significant defeat for the Conservatives, are in stark contrast to 2019 when Boris Johnson won a large victory, with politicians predicting that the party would be in power for at least 10 years. Starmer took over Labour from socialist Jeremy Corbyn after the party suffered its worst defeat in 2019, and dragged it back at the centre.

At the same time, the Conservatives in Westminster have imploded, ripped apart by scandal under Johnson and the chaos that followed the vote to leave the European Union, and a failure to deliver on the demands of its broad 2019 voter base. The Conservatives were mired in a scandal since former PM Boris Johnson was ousted after he and his staff held lockdown-breaching parties during the COVID-19 pandemic. His successor Liz Truss rocked the COVID-weakened economy with a package of drastic tax cuts, making a cost-of-living crisis worse, and lasted just 49 days in office.

Who are the other parties?

Apart from the two main parties, the Scottish National Party, which campaigns for Scottish independence; Liberal Democrats; and Democratic Unionist Party, which seeks to maintain ties between Britain and Northern Ireland, are currently the three largest parties in Parliament.

A far-right party called the Reform UK led by politician Nigel Farage, formed by Tory rebels, may siphon votes from the Conservatives. The unexpected arrival of Farage has damaged the vote share of the Tories, while the Liberal Democrats are predicted to fare well in the party’s traditional affluent heartlands. The environmentalist Green Party will also look to sweep up disaffected voters from bigger parties.

Starmer could also benefit from a Labour recovery in Scotland, after the Scottish National Party embarked on its own self-destructive path following a funding scandal and looks set to lose its stronghold for the first time since 2015. However, Starmer may find his fortunes more sorely tested in Downing Street after voters give their verdict today.

(with inputs from agencies)

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