UK's Labour sweeping into power with huge majority, exit poll shows

UK’s Labour sweeping into power with huge majority, exit poll shows

By Andrew MacAskill, Elizabeth Piper and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -Keir Starmer will become Britain’s next prime minister on Friday with his Labour Party set to win a massive majority in a parliamentary election, an exit poll indicated, forecasting Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives would suffer historic losses.

Centre-left Labour was on course to capture 410 of the 650 seats in parliament, an astonishing reversal of fortunes from five years ago when it suffered its worst performance since 1935.

The result would give Labour a majority of 170 and would bring the curtain down on 14 years of increasingly tumultuous Conservative-led government.

“Tonight, people here and around the country have spoken and they’re ready for change, to end the politics of performance, a return to politics as public service,” Starmer said after winning his seat in London.

“The change begins right here. Because this is your democracy, your community and your future. You have voted. It is now time for us to deliver.”

Starmer will come to power with a daunting in-tray, with a sluggish economy, creaking public services, and falling living standards – all factors which contributed to the Conservatives’ demise.

Sunak’s Conservatives party were forecast to only win 131 seats, the worst electoral performance in its history, as voters punished them for a cost-of-living crisis, and years of instability and in-fighting which has seen five different prime ministers since the Brexit vote of 2016.

The centrist Liberal Democrats were predicted to capture 61 seats while the right-wing populist Reform UK party, headed by Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage was forecast to win 13, far more than expected.
Results from more than 120 seats confirmed Labour and the Lib Dems were making gains from the Conservatives, while Reform also claimed its first victory, and pushed the Conservatives into third place in many areas.

“Reform has clearly done well tonight and I know the reaction of some of my colleagues will be that we should lurch to the right,” one Conservative lawmaker, who declined to be named, told Reuters. “But Labour have won this election in the centre and we need to remember that lesson.”

Overall, the exit poll did suggest British voters had shifted support to an internationalist centre-left party, unlike in France where Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party made historic gains in an election last Sunday.

It was not just the Conservatives whose vote was predicted to have collapsed. The pro-independence Scottish National Party was forecast to win only 10 seats, its worst showing since 2010, after a period of turmoil which has seen two leaders quit in little over a year.

“If this exit poll is correct, then this is a historic defeat for the Conservative Party,” Keiran Pedley, research director at Ipsos, which carried out the exit poll, told Reuters.

“It looked like the Conservatives were going to be in power for 10 years and it has all fallen apart.”


Sunak stunned Westminster and many in his own party by calling the election earlier than he needed to in May with the Conservatives trailing Labour by some 20 points in opinion polls.
He had hoped that the gap would narrow as had traditionally been the case in British elections, but instead had a fairly disastrous campaign.

It started badly with him getting drenched by rain outside Downing Street as he announced the vote, before aides and Conservative candidates became caught up in a gambling scandal, and Sunak’s early departure from D-Day commemorative events in France further fuelled criticism.

If the exit poll proves right, it represents an incredible turnaround for Starmer and Labour, which critics and supporters said was facing an existential crisis just three years ago when it appeared to have lost its way after its 2019 drubbing.

But a series of scandals – most notably revelations of parties in Downing Street during COVID lockdowns – undermined then prime minister Boris Johnson and its commanding poll leads evaporated.

Liz Truss’ disastrous six-week premiership, which followed Johnson being forced out at the end of 2022, cemented the decline, and Sunak was unable to make any dent in Labour’s now commanding poll lead.

“We deserved to lose. The Conservative Party just appears exhausted and out of ideas,” Ed Costello, the chairman of the Grassroots Conservatives organisation, which represents rank-and-file members, told Reuters.

“But it is not all Rishi Sunak’s fault. It is Boris Johnson and Liz Truss that have led the party to disaster. Rishi Sunak is just the fall guy.”

The predicted Labour result would not quite match the record levels achieved by the party under Tony Blair in 1997 and 2001 when the party captured 418 and 412 seats respectively.
“The electoral mountain that Labour have needed to climb is bigger than Tony Blair had to climb and he (Starmer) has climbed it with room to spare,” Peter Sloman, a professor of politics at the University of Cambridge, told Reuters.

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