Britain Election

A woman leaves after casting her vote at a polling station in London on Thursday. Voters in the U.K. are casting their ballots in a national election to choose the 650 lawmakers who will sit in Parliament for the next five years. Outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak surprised his own party on May 22 when he called the election. Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s center-left Labour Party appears to have defeated the center-right Conservative Party in a historic landslide, according to exit polls. Former lefty lawyer turned ruthless centrist Keir Starmer of the Labour Party is expected to become the nation’s next prime minister, relegating incumbent Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives to official opposition status.

In an election that was more about mood than policy, voters appear to have conveyed their frustration with the Conservative Party and a willingness to give a chance to a renewed Labour Party, purged of its hard-left elements and socialist rhetoric.

The exit poll, conducted by Ipsos for BBC, ITV News and Sky News, projected Starmer’s Labour would win 410 seats, Sunak’s Conservatives would win 131 and Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats would win 61. Nigel Farage’s right-wing Reform UK party is projected to win 13 seats.

If these numbers are accurate, the election would give Labour its largest majority in modern history – bigger even than Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide victory.

Britain Election

Keir Starmer. Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press, file

Sunak’s campaign was dogged by gaffes and microscandals. Voters appear to have become impatient with Tory promises of a sunlit tomorrow – and ready for Labour.

The results are expected to shift into the formalities of a government transition Friday, with the blessing of King Charles III.

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Voters in this election say the issues they care most about are the economy and health care. Labour is seen as stronger on both counts. Starmer wants to shore up the British economy and address people’s sense that everyday costs have become unmanageable. He wants to cut soaring electricity costs – with a new state-run green utility company. He wants to cut wait times for medical and dental appointments.

Britain’s foreign policy hardly ever changes under a new government. Tony Travers, a politics expert at the London School of Economics, said foreign policy would remain “amazingly unaltered” by a shift from Conservative to Labour rule. Starmer has said Britain will remain a strong member of NATO; will back Ukraine in its war against Russia; and will support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, while calling for a cease-fire. Although Brexit is seen as a flop and there is no enthusiasm for another referendum, Britain under Starmer will probably seek a closer relationship with the European Union.

YouGov had predicted in its final poll, conducted between June 19 and July 2, that Labour would win 431 seats, Conservatives 102 seats, Liberal Democrats 72 seats and Reform three seats.

Conservatives had tried to rev up their voters by warning of a Labour “supermajority,” but that isn’t a term that has real meaning in Britain’s parliamentary system. Legislation passes as long as just over 50% of lawmakers vote for it. And as long as Labour wins a simple majority of seats, it can form a government and expect to pass much of its program. Governing parties seek to maintain strict discipline in the House of Commons by sending written instructions to lawmakers indicating how they should vote. On important bills, lawmakers who rebel can be kicked out of the party as punishment, or “lose the whip.”

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