UK election results: Labour set for landslide victory

Voters flocked to polling stations on Thursday morning in Portsmouth, a coastal city in southern England known for its naval base and historic dockyards, and were warmly greeted by polling officials.

An elderly couple walked hand in hand into a local church, where a temporary ballot box had been set up, alongside parents with children in strollers and young people on their way to work.

One by one, they gave their opinion on the country’s future in a vote that opinion polls suggest could bring an end to 14 years of Conservative-led government.

“I just want to see change,” said Sam Aruga, 36, as he left his local polling station on Thursday morning, having just voted Labor. “I really want to see us do something different.”

Many in the city, even from different political backgrounds, expressed a similar desire for a fresh start at a time of growing national instability. Opinion polls have predicted the centre-left Labour Party will lose to the right-wing Conservatives in what is expected to be a potentially watershed election.

Portsmouth North is considered a benchmark constituency, with the area having voted for the winning party in every general election since 1974. Results for the area were not expected until early Friday morning, but many voters were expecting a shift in the political landscape.

It is also a microcosm of the wider national challenges facing the governing party: Conservative constituencies long held by popular candidates are now at risk of being lost, along with deeply disillusioned voters who have expressed frustration with their quality of life and what many see as a lack of leadership.

A billboard advertising a television station’s election coverage.credit…Andrew Testa (The New York Times)
Portsmouth town centre.credit…Andrew Testa (The New York Times)

The seat has been held since 2010 by Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt, who attracted international attention for her poise and composure during a high-profile role last year that included wielding a heavy, jewel-encrusted ceremonial sword at the coronation of King Charles III.

Mordaunt, the likely leader, enjoys widespread support in Portsmouth and some locals say he has no intention of moving in a new direction. But opinion polls suggest Labour supporters in the constituency are likely to outnumber the Conservatives in Thursday’s vote..

The centrist Liberal Democrats, thought to be the third most popular party in the UK, and the far-right Reform UK Party could also take votes away from the Conservatives.

“We’re hopeful that from Friday we’ll have a more compassionate government,” said Graham Milner, 62, who was walking through the city centre on Wednesday afternoon with his husband of 30 years. He voted for the Labour candidate and said, “We’re hopeful that on Friday we can celebrate the arrival of a new prime minister.”

Many of the shops around them were empty or boarded up — graffiti still lingered on the walls of a closed department store — and there was little to draw people to the area, apart from a betting shop, a charity shop and a small shop selling e-cigarettes, Mr Milner said.

He first came to the city to join the navy – it’s home to the country’s largest naval base – and was deployed as a chef on a warship during the Falklands War in the 1980s. He was kicked out of the military because of his sexual orientation, then became heavily involved in trade unionism after returning to civilian life. He had already voted in a postal vote last week.

“Austerity measures have been completely deadly to working-class people,” Milner said, pointing to the number of workers who rely on food banks to survive. “This is not the Britain I knew when I was in the army.”

Graffiti covers a boarded-up department store in downtown Portsmouth, where residents say their once thriving area is in a state of apparent decline.credit…Andrew Testa (The New York Times)
Tracy Patton, 59, who has lived in the city all her life, said she doesn’t plan to vote this time.credit…Andrew Testa (The New York Times)

The hollowing out of the National Health Service, the rising cost of living which is affecting many, debate over immigration and concerns about the impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union were on the minds of many local residents.

Some were disillusioned with politicians from various parties and had no intention of voting at all.

“We’ve always supported Labour but we’re not voting this year,” said Tracey Patton, 59, a lifelong resident of the city who said she was fed up with politics as she sat outside a cafe with friends on Wednesday evening, reminiscing about how the once-bustling market had changed.

“It had a vibe and vibe,” she says, “but now it’s gone. England just doesn’t have the money anymore.”

The prospect of an uncertain future is weighing heavily on some young voters. Daisy Quelch, 28, and Kiran Kaur, 24, were packing their bags after an outdoor boxing class near Southsea Common seafront.

“Sometimes it feels like our world is falling apart,” Quelch said, adding that she is particularly concerned about climate change and the environment and will be voting Green. “We want to see change, but we don’t see it happening anytime soon.”

Earlier this year, residents were warned not to swim in the sea after a local water company released raw sewage along the coast. Polluting the water.

Water pollution has become a major election campaign issue across Britain, with some blaming the government for failing to stop water companies privatised during Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1980s dumping untreated waste into waterways.

Patrons at Dixie’s Bar in Portsmouth discussed politics before voting Thursday morning.credit…Andrew Testa (The New York Times)
English flags and election posters for Reform UK candidates on Kingston Road in Portsmouth.credit…Andrew Testa (The New York Times)

Some once-loyal Conservative voters said they were having second thoughts about voting, with several considering voting for Reform UK, the anti-immigration populist party led by the brash and divisive Nigel Farage that rocked the general election campaign.

“They mean the right thing to me,” said Gemma Hobday, 43, whose husband said he would continue to support Mordaunt, who is also a military veteran.

But there were also those who defended the Conservatives. At Dixie’s Pub, just off the main road, a group of patrons were playing pool on the night before the election, the clinking of the balls mixing with chatter.

Andrew Revis, 57, who was having a beer in the bar after finishing work at a nearby accountancy firm, said he felt Mordaunt, described as an efficient and dedicated councillor, and the Conservative party were being unfairly criticised.

“They’ve received a lot of criticism, but I don’t think it’s entirely under their control,” he said, noting that the coronavirus pandemic and the devastating effects of the Ukraine war have created unforeseen difficulties.

“It’s a cost of living,” said Kelly Harris, 36, as she sat with her niece, Shanice Bakes, 19, outside an Iceland supermarket on Wednesday evening. She pointed to her bags. Harris said there was a time when a cart full of groceries would cost around 50 pounds ($65), but now it’s impossible to fill a bag for that price.

“And you’re not getting a pay raise,” she added.

Harris has traditionally voted Conservative, but was hesitant to vote for the party in this election.

“They all promise us great things, but in the end nothing happens and nothing changes.”

A polling station sign in the Cosham area of ​​Portsmouth.credit…Andrew Testa (The New York Times)

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