Voting begins in key UK poll to define future of Brexit
The third general election in five years, Thursday’s edition was preceded by rare assertion by sections of the 1.5 million-strong Indian community upset with the Labour party for its stand on Kashmir.Updated: Dec 12, 2019 13:59 IST
Britons and qualifying citizens of India and Commonwealth countries resident in the United Kingdom began voting at 0700 GMT (12.30pm IST) in elections that could determine the country’s future, and how and when it will break off from the European Union (EU).
The third general election in five years, Thursday’s edition was preceded by rare assertion by sections of the 1.5 million-strong Indian community upset with the Labour party for its stand on Kashmir. On social media and some constituencies, campaigners have actively sought votes against Labour.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted before voting booths opened: “Today is our chance to get Brexit done. Vote Conservative.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also took to Twitter: “Our country is beautiful and it deserves a government that will take care of it. Today #VoteLabour.”
Voting ends at 2200 GMT (3.30am, Friday, IST). It will be followed by an exit poll, as results are announced around midnight GMT (5.30am, Friday, IST).
Conservative and Labour, the two main contenders, had Brexit as their core message. The former sought a majority to deliver it by the deadline of January 31, while the latter promised to renegotiate it and hold another referendum, with a “Remain in EU” option.
The choice in effect is about real change in the British society and direction -- a bigger role for the state under Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, including nationalising services such as railways; and Johnson seeing the country through Brexit, as per the agreement reached in October.
The majority mark in the 650-member House of Commons is 326, but the real contest between the two main parties is to reach an effective majority, which is smaller than 326, because the speaker and his three deputy speakers do not usually vote in the House.
Also, Sinn Fein, the Northern Ireland-based party, which won seven seats in 2017, traditionally refuses to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth; their MPs do not take up their seats in the House, thus further reducing the effective majority mark.
Opinion polls have suggested a slender majority for the Conservative Party or another hung Parliament (like the 2017 election). Both scenarios are likely to further challenge the Brexit process.
The Kashmir angle has marked the election for Indians as never before, with Labour bearing the brunt of anger in sections of the community for its stand on internationalising the issue, and for not nominating an Indian-origin candidate in its stronghold of Leicester East, held for 32 years by Keith Vaz, who stepped down in November.
The Conservative Party, which has wooed the community under the leadership of David Cameron since 2005, has increasingly won support, particularly from the young, aspirational third generation members, who have progressively veered towards the Conservatives.
Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds visited the Neasden temple over the weekend, seeking votes and hailing the contribution of the Indian community. Johnson followed it up with another letter addressed to the community on Wednesday, promising to further India-UK relations.
The Guardian said in its editorial: “Britain has not faced a more critical election in decades than the one it faces on Thursday. The country’s future direction, its place in the world and even its territorial integrity are all at stake, primarily because this is a decisive election for Brexit.”
It added: “The choice is stark. The next prime minister is going to be either Boris Johnson, who is focused on ‘getting Brexit done’ whatever the consequences, or Jeremy Corbyn, who with a Labour-led government will try to remodel society with a programme of nationalisation and public spending.”
Fact-checkers have never been so busy in British elections, with every statement by lights scrutinised amid swirling allegations of lies. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford calls it “a bad election for truth”.