Today is the day, after a six week campaign the UK votes in a General Election, the third in four years – unusual frequency for Britons. The day will be politics free, but for the few private moments between voter and ballot paper. Polls close at 22:00 tonight, at that point we see the closely watched exit poll, strong sign of where the country has voted, but not a certainty. Counting the votes is what matters, including the c20 percent postal ballots, this starts right away. What will unfold in the early hours of Friday morning is now in the hands of the near 50 million eligible voters.
Perhaps the most important election in recent times, both main parties have committed to take the country in very different directions, including Brexit – the campaign itself revealed the ‘radical’ domestic agenda promised by the Labour leadership. For the Conservative party, as expected this election was about Brexit and moving on, to unleash Britain’s potential.
It was a largely uneventful campaign on all sides. Yes, there were bumps in the road: The Lib Dems started out promoting leader, Jo Swinson, as alternative prime minister and the strongest commitment to remain in the EU – in recent weeks we have seen less of Swinson and a shift to a ‘peoples vote’ on our future relationship with the EU. Labour continued to struggle with anti-semitism, and deep mistrust of leader Jeremy Corbyn – fifteen of his former MPs signed an open letter yesterday urging voters not to vote Labour. The party revised its campaign against the Lib Dems to fight a rear-guard action against the Conservatives in Labour heartlands in the north and midlands, where Leave voters have shown a greater willingness to support the Tories. The SNP are targeting the Scottish Conservative seats north of the border – another open letter yesterday, this time from first minister, Nicola Sturgeon branding Boris Johnson the ‘greatest danger to Scotland’ and painting the SNP as the only block to his re-election.
The Conservative party has maintained a commanding lead throughout. A slow start to their online presence caught up and visually they have had a strong campaign. Central to it was leader Boris Johnson, their great electoral asset and biggest single risk. The party has done well to keep him from TV debates and the Andrew Neil interview; few out of Westminster will have noticed his absence. The Tories like the other parties have also kept leading figures out of the limelight, the most ‘presidential’ of our elections. Both candidates for prime minister are widely known, but also largely unpopular outside their own core supporters.
In the past month we have seen an increase in younger voter registrations. Will they turn out? Has health resonated more than Brexit in the final days, and would it be sufficient to change opinion anyway? This election will be hard-fought seat by seat, the last YouGov MRP data of the election projects the worst result for Labour in more than three decades and the Conservatives on course for a 28 seat majority. This however is within the margin of error for a hung parliament. The next election is due by May 2024, but only if a more stable politics emerge from today’s critical election. We’ll know the result this time tomorrow!