Britain’s ruling Conservatives had a one-point lead over the opposition Labour Party in an Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard newspaper published on Thursday, down from a five-point lead in a poll on April 30.
Voting was under way in the general election. The new poll found support for the Conservatives at 36 per cent with Labour on 35 per cent. The Liberal Democrats, junior coalition partners to the Conservatives, were on 8 per cent while the anti-European Union party UKIP was on 11 per cent and the Greens on 5 per cent.
Till yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives had seen their lead over the opposition Labour Party wiped out, according to an ICM poll for the Guardian published a day ahead of Thursday’s national election.
The survey put the Conservatives and Labour both on 35 per cent. The previous ICM poll for the Guardian had given the Conservatives a three-point lead over Labour. The anti-European UK Independence Party was down 2 points at 11 percent and the Liberal Democrats were unchanged at 9 per cent.
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Party leaders and candidates are in a last-minute scramble for votes as tomorrow’s UK general election is expected to be too close to call with opinion polls indicating just a wafer-thin lead for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives. As opinion polls continue to reflect a knife-edge election, Indian-origin voters are set to play their most proactive role in British electoral history this time.
With just hours to go before polling booths will open across the UK at 0700 (local time) tomorrow, Cameron’s ruling Conservative Party is ahead only by a sliver at 34 per cent and Opposition Labour led by Ed Miliband at 33 per cent. Nick Clegg-led Liberal Democrats, who formed part of the coalition government after the last 2010 elections, have slipped in popularity to fourth position behind the anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP).
An estimated 615,000 migrant Indian votes by virtue of their Commonwealth citizenship coupled with an Indian Diaspora population of an estimated 1.5 million hold a major sway among the 45 million eligible voters in the 2015 election, dubbed as the “most unpredictable” in history. The last elections had set a new record with eight Indian-origin candidates, including two women, being elected to the British Parliament.
Prominent among the Indian-origin candidates are some long-serving MPs like Labour’s Keith Vaz, whose Leicester East seat looks pretty safe this time as well. His sister Valerie Vaz is defending her Walsall South seat. Virendra Sharma is another Labour veteran who is expected to sail through in Ealing Southall and Seema Malhotra from
Feltham and Heston is also popular.
On the Tory side, there is a new brother-sister duo of Arun and Suria Photay who are contesting from Birmingham Yardley and Wolverhampton South East respectively. Priti Patel, who has played her part in the Cabinet and as Cameron’s Indian Diaspora Champion, is likely to retain her Witham seat in Essex and first-timer Rishi Sunak, son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayan Murthy is expected to make history from Richmond.
The Conservatives are leading the charge in terms of Indian-origin candidates with 17, followed by Labour and Lib Dems at 14 each. According to electoral rules in the UK, parties voluntarily stop campaigning on the day of polling hence it is only today each candidate has to make their last voting pleas.
While Cameron’s message is that “the country is stronger than it was five years ago but there is more to do,” Miliband urged people to vote “to reward hard work in our country again”. Clegg is going with a “stability and decency” slogan and warned of another election in a few months unless people vote more decisively. The British Parliament is made up of 650 seats – 533 constituencies in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland – with 326 required for a majority.
In the last elections in 2010, which threw up a hung parliament, the Tories had 307 and Labour 258. The Tories turned to the Lib-Dems with their 57 to form a government after a record five-day deliberation period. This time poll pundits are predicting an even more protracted period of discussions as no party is expected to
command a clear majority following the results, which are expected by early Friday morning. Exit polls will begin pouring in soon after the official end of voting at 2200 (local time) tomorrow and the constituency of Sunderland is expected to maintain its lead as the first to declare, at times just an hour after polling by 11 pm.
Barring tight results and numerous recounts, seats in Northumberland, Warwick and Cornwall are likely to be the last to declare early on Friday. Historically, certain constituencies have a history of being won by the party that goes on to form the next government. They are known as bellwethers in reference to the old practice of putting a bell round the neck of a ram so that its ringing would reveal the whereabouts of the flock of sheep that followed him.
Famous bellwether seats include Gravesham (and its predecessor Gravesend) – which spoilt its record when it was won by the Conservatives in 2005 but was back on track by 2010; and Luton South (and predecessors Luton East and Luton), whose record of going the same way as the UK as a whole goes back to 1951 but foundered in 2010, when Labour won it.
While most voters will vote at one of the 40,000 polling booths around the country, a significant minority of voters will have opted to vote by post and already sent their choice a few weeks ago. Among some of the latest rules for polling day, the Electoral Commission has restricted social media and tweeting from inside the polling booths. Technically, even Queen Elizabeth II could vote but the royal family chooses not to do so as it is considered unconstitutional not to remain politically neutral.
(with inputs from Reuters)