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UK political parties kick campaign into high gear amid final days

FILE - A woman holds her voting card as she arrives to vote in London in local elections, Thursday, May 2, 2024.
FILE - A woman holds her voting card as she arrives to vote in London in local elections, Thursday, May 2, 2024. Copyright Kin Cheung/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Kin Cheung/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP
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Rishi Sunak has covered thousands of miles in the past few weeks, but he hasn’t outrun the expectation that his time as Britain’s prime minister is in its final hours.

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Rishi Sunak has covered thousands of miles in the past few weeks, but he hasn't outrun the expectation that his term as prime minister of the UK is entering its final hours.

British voters will cast ballots in a national election Thursday and are widely expected to do something they have not done since 2005: Elect a Labour Party government.

During a hectic final two days of campaigning that saw him visit a food distribution warehouse, a supermarket, a farm and more, Sunak insisted that "the outcome of this election is not a foregone conclusion".

"People can see that we have turned a corner," said the Conservative leader, who has led the country since October 2022. "It has been a difficult few years, but undeniably things are in a better place now than they were."

But even a last-minute pep talk at a Conservative rally on Tuesday night by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who led the party to a thumping election victory in 2019 — did little to lift the party's mood, and several Conservative minister and candidates appearing across multiple media outlets have conceded that their party is set to lose, and badly.

Labour has warned against taking the election result for granted, imploring supporters not to grow complacent about polls that have given the party a solid double-digit lead since before the campaign began.

The party's leader, Keir Starmer, has spent the six-week campaign urging voters to take a chance on his centre-left party and vote for change — and most people, from pollsters to pundits to politicians, expect they will.

Labour has not set pulses racing with its pledges to get the sluggish economy growing, invest in infrastructure and make Britain a "clean energy superpower."

But nothing has really gone wrong, either. The party has won the support of large chunks of the business community and endorsements from traditionally conservative newspapers including the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times.

Former Labour candidate Douglas Beattie, author of the book "How Labour Wins (and Why it Loses)," said Starmer's "quiet stability probably chimes with the mood of the country right now."

"The country is looking for fresh ideas, moving away from a government that's exhausted and divided," Beattie said. "So Labour are pushing at an open door."

Torydämmerung

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have been plagued by gaffes.

The campaign got off to an inauspicious start when Sunak announced it in torrential outside 10 Downing Street on 22 May. He followed this up with a visit to the Titanic museum in Belfast, prompting questions about whether his campaign was a "sinking ship".

Then on 6 June, Sunak attended commemorations in France marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion — and left early, missing a ceremony alongside US President Joe Biden and France's Emmanuel Macron in favour of sitting for a pre-recorded interview. The outcry across the political spectrum was furious, and the issue has dogged him ever since.

After several more weeks of botched appearances and awkward interviews, a full-blown scandal hit when it emerged that several people close to Sunak are being investigated by the gambling regulator over suspicions they used inside information to place bets on the date of the election before it was announced.

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It has all made it harder for Sunak to shake off the taint of political chaos and mismanagement that's gathered around the Conservatives since Johnson and his staff held parties in Downing Street during the COVID-19 pandemic — and since his successor, Liz Truss, announced a package of unfunded tax cuts that sparked an economic crisis and exacerbated an already severe cost-of-living crisis worse. So bad was the fallout that Truss lasted just 49 days in office.

But for many voters, the lack of trust applies not just to Conservatives, but to politicians in general.

Veteran right-wing instigator Nigel Farage has leaped into that breach with his Reform UK party, grabbing headlines and voters' attention with his anti-immigration culture war rhetoric — while also seeing his insurgent party engulfed by scandals over many of its candidates' racist statements.

The centrist Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, look set for a dramatic revival at the Tories' expense, while the environmentalist Green Party are keen to sweep up left-wing voters turned off by some of the Labour Party's more moderate positions.

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What now?

Across the country, voters say they want change, but aren't optimistic it will come.

"I don't know who's for me as a working person," said Michelle Bird, a port worker in Southampton on England's south coast who was undecided about whether to vote Labour or Conservative. "I don't know whether it's the devil you know or the devil you don't."

Conner Filsell, a young office worker in the London suburbs, would simply like to buy a home of his own, a dream that still eludes most young Britons.

"I still live at home. I would love to be able to have my own place, but the way things are going it's just not on the cards," he said.

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Lise Butler, senior lecturer in modern history at City University of London, said that signs point to this being "a change election in which the Conservatives are punished." But she said that if Starmer wins, "the years to come … may be challenging."

"He'll probably be facing constant attacks on various grounds from left and right," she said. "So I think that while the outcome of this election is pretty clear, I think all bets are off in terms of what, what Labour's support is going to look like over the next few years."

Starmer has agreed that his biggest challenge is "the mindset in some voters that everything's broken, nothing can be fixed."

"And secondly, a sense of mistrust in politics because of so many promises having been made over the last 14 years which weren't carried through," he told broadcaster ITV on Tuesday. "We have to reach in and turn that around."

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Many election experts expect a relatively low turnout, somewhere below the 67% recorded in 2019. Yet if it delivers a big Labour majority and a diminished Conservative Party, this election may herald an economic and political transformation on a scale Britain has not seen in decades.

In Moreton-in-Marsh, a pretty town of honey-coloured stone buildings in western England's Cotswold hills, 25-year-old Evie Smith-Lomas relished the chance to eject the area's longstanding Conservative MP.

"This has been a Tory seat forever, for 32 years, longer than I've been alive," she said. "I'm excited at the prospect of someone new. I mean I think 32 years in any job is too long. You surely have run out of ideas by now."

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