Britain set for general election, as polls indicate opposition landslide

London — Britons look set to elect a new government by landslide as the country prepares to head to the polls on Thursday July 4. The vote comes amid weak economic growth and struggling public services, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war in Gaza among the major foreign policy challenges lying ahead for the next administration. 

The current opposition Labour Party under Keir Starmer is polling around 20% ahead of the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives, who have been in power for the past 14 years, a period that witnessed Britain’s bumpy exit from the European Union and a much-criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“There is clearly widespread and very deep dissatisfaction with the Conservatives,” said Ursula Hackett, a political expert at Royal Holloway, University of London. “The question there is the cost of living, but I also think it’s a sense of scandal and sleaze,” she told the Associated Press. 

While Labour is in a buoyant mood ahead of the election, analysts caution that voter dissatisfaction appears to extend across the entire political spectrum — with little evidence of positive enthusiasm for the main opposition or its leader, Starmer. 

Voter dissatisfaction 

The town of Dartford, east of London, is known as a “bellwether” constituency. Its voters have picked a candidate from the winning party of every general election since 1964, making it a useful gauge of national political feeling. 

Eighteen-year-old Yasmine Nicholls, who volunteers at a local food bank, is preparing to vote for the first time — but is already disillusioned.  

“The people of England don’t actually get to decide on what is going to happen in the country. … We don’t really get to have a say in a lot of things that happen, we just have to follow,” she said. 

Retired store worker Linda Skinner, who is 64, echoed that sentiment. “Governments are no longer for the people. To be honest, I haven’t voted for a long time. Our votes don’t count. The same people basically get in each time, Labour, Conservative, they are all the same,” she told AP. 

For some, that lack of trust has been driven by recent political scandals. 

“Across the board. I don’t trust any of them. Especially when our (former) Prime Minister Boris Johnson lied. He lied straight across the board. He went to a party when everybody was in lockdown, and then from that point onwards, that’s it, that was enough for me,” said pensioner Hilmi Hilmi. 

Scandal 

Johnson — who resigned last year following a series of scandals, including the breaking of COVID-19 lockdown rules — is one of five different Conservative prime ministers over the past eight turbulent years. 

Analysts say the current Prime Minister Sunak is struggling to shake off that image amid new investigations by Britain’s Gambling Commission into Conservative members placing bets on the timing of the upcoming election.  

Weak economy 

The opposition Labour Party under Starmer is well ahead in most polls. But he would inherit a struggling economy, noted Anand Menon, a professor of international politics at Kings College London. 

“We have crumbling public services after, in some cases, years of underinvestment. We’ve got very, very low median wage growth over the last 10 to 15 years. So we’ve got a public that is increasingly worried about the state of the economy.  

“At the same time, we have very little in the way of money to address these problems. The tax burden is the highest it’s been since the end of the Second World War. Debt repayments are high, and crucially, growth is very, very low. One of the first big questions to face a Starmer government is going to be, how are you going to raise the money to fix our crumbling public services?” Menon told VOA. 

Global challenges 

The next government will also face a daunting list of global challenges. There is uncertainty over future Western military aid for Ukraine, as Kyiv battles to regain lost ground from invading Russian forces. 

Amid huge loss of life in Gaza, members of the Labour Party are demanding that Starmer be more critical of the Israeli government’s actions. Starmer has said he wants to recognize a Palestinian state as part of a wider peace process. 

China continues to pose an economic and geopolitical challenge to the West. But Britain’s allies shouldn’t expect a dramatic change of foreign policy, said analyst Menon. 

“One of the striking things about British politics at the moment is that over the two big crises of our time, Gaza and Ukraine, there’s very little, if any, difference between the positions adopted by the big parties. So, I don’t think there’ll be much of a change,” Menon said. 

Small parties 

Britain’s smaller parties could play a big role in deciding the election outcome and the scale of Labour’s expected victory. The center-left Liberal Democrats have a chance of pushing the Conservatives into third place. 

The anti-immigration, pro-Brexit Reform party could also peel off right-leaning Conservative voters. Reform leader Nigel Farage was widely criticized by other parties after saying the West provoked Russia into invading Ukraine, while party activists were recently filmed undercover using racist insults, drawing condemnation from across the political spectrum.

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