Calm after the storm: Britons cast their vote at end of tough campaign
After seven weeks of promises, warnings, heated debate and sometimes bruising dispute, Britain awoke to the comparative calm of an election day, going to the polls for the third crucial national vote in as many years.
Polling stations across the country opened at 7am on Thursday amid heightened security, after the general election campaign was twice interrupted by terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London. Polling stations close at 10pm.
Voters were advised to be alert and report any concerns to the police, hours after three men were arrested in east London in connection with the London Bridge attack, and a further three men were detained over a potential terrorist plot unconnected to Saturday’s one.
“We appreciate that these are unprecedented times, and together with our partners we continue to keep communities safe,” said the Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner, Lucy D’Orsi.
For the party leaders, the end of almost two months of interviews, rallies, catchphrases, U-turns, brain fades and no-shows will have come as a relief, leaving them with nothing to do except cast their own vote and smile for the cameras outside the local polling station.
The prime minister, Theresa May, greeted reporters with a brisk “hello” before voting early with her husband, Philip, in their home village of Sonning, Berkshire, but did not speak further.
By contrast, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, beamed broadly as he voted in his north London constitutency, sporting a bright red tie and red Labour rosette.
“Thank you all very much for coming here today,” Corbyn told waiting reporters. “It’s a day of our democracy. I’ve just voted, and I’m very proud of our campaign.”
He said “thank you” to a wellwisher who shouted that Corbyn would be the next prime minister, and ignored a reporter who asked if he would resign as leader if he lost.
There were scuffles among photographers outside the Lake District polling station where Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, cast his vote.
Reporters scuffle while waiting for Tim Farron at polling station – video
Meanwhile Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, joined a social media trend by posting pictures on Twitter under the hashtag #dogsatpollingstations, bringing her pet, Wilson, along as she cast her vote in central Edinburgh.
Team Davidson voting in Edinburgh this morning. Wilson’s #dogsatpollingstations debut… pic.twitter.com/QdM4cAmMMj
June 8, 2017 Ruth Davidson
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister and leader of the Scottish National party, said she was feeling good and waved at photographers after voting at a Glasgow community hall.
Some voters reported queues early in the morning outside polling stations; others posted photographs of young people waiting in line to vote, including at the universities of East Anglia, Kent and Warwick, and at polling booths in the two constituencies in Oxford.
But after a campaign characterised by a wildly divergent range of polling on the parties’ chances of victory, the final opinion poll of the campaign, conducted by Ipsos Mori for the Evening Standard and published on Thursday, gave the Conservatives a comfortable eight-point lead over Labour, at 44% to 36%, with the Liberal Democrats on 7%, Ukip on 4% and the Greens 2%.
Unlike in previous elections, however, the different polls have not converged as polling day approached. A Survation poll on the eve of the election had the two major parties almost neck and neck, with 41.3% expressing support for the Conservatives and 40.4% for Labour; the Liberal Democrats were on 7.8%, SNP on 3.6%, Ukip on 2.4% and the Greens on 2.3%.
Late polls by ICM for the Guardian, ComRes for the Independent and YouGov for the Times had the Tories ahead by 12, 10 and seven percentage points respectively. A “poll of polls” compiled by the Press Association on Wednesday, taking in 10 results from the previous week, put the Conservatives on 44%, seven points clear of Labour on 37%, with the Lib Dems on 8%, Ukip on 4% and the Greens on 2%.
Voters in Northern Ireland, casting their ballots just three months after a snap assembly election triggered by a collapse in power-sharing, turned out in heavy rain at polling stations.
The Alliance candidate for Belfast West, Sorcha Eastwood, cast her vote at a Lisburn polling station in her wedding dress, having married Dale Shirlowearlier in the day.
In Wells, one of six constituencies that the Guardian has been reporting on in-depth since the start of the campaign, the Lib Dem candidate, Tessa Munt, who was ousted two years ago by Tory James Heappey, described the campaign as one of the most confusing she had ever faced. “It’s peppered with different levels of concern about international, as well as national, as well as local issues. It’s extraordinary.”
In her final message of the campaign on Wednesday, May sought once again to steer the campaign back to Brexit, an issue on which the Tories believe they hold an advantage over Labour. It was also a useful distraction from her embarrassing U-turn over the party’s policy on social care funding and controversy over her role in police cuts, both of which saw her initial huge poll lead slashed.
“If we get Brexit right, we can build a Britain that is more prosperous and more secure … The greatest meritocracy in the world,” May said.
In a message aimed directly at wavering voters, she added: “I can only build that better country and get the right deal in Brussels with the support of the British people. So whoever you have voted for in the past, if that is the future you want then vote Conservative today and we can all go forward together.”
Corbyn closed his campaign on Wednesday by addressing a packed rally in his Islington heartland, where he claimed to have reshaped British politics and vowed that Labour was preparing for government.
“We have already changed the debate and given people hope,” he said. “Hope that it doesn’t have to be like this, that inequality can be tackled, that austerity can be ended, that you can stand up to the elites and the cynics. This is the new centre-ground.”
The Labour leader awoke to a characteristically hostile front page on the Sun, which pictured him emerging from a dustbin under the headline: “Don’t chuck Britain in the Cor-bin.” The headline prompted a response on social media from some of his supporters, who vowed to buy as many copies of the paper as they could find and put them in the bin first.
A day after the Daily Mail declared Corbyn and his key allies John McDonnell and Diane Abbott to be “apologists for terror”, however, the paper opted for a more positive front page on Thursday, telling readers: “Let’s reignite British spirit,” under a beaming photograph of May.
The election day splash of the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror featured an unflattering picture of the prime minister with the headline: “Lies, damned lies and Theresa May.”