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LONDON: Britain’s Labor Party was headed for a landslide victory in a general election on Friday, an opinion poll and partial results suggested, as voters punished the ruling Conservatives after 14 years of economic and political upheaval.
As the sun came up, the official results showed Labor with 326 of the 650 seats as counting continued. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has already conceded defeat and said he called centre-left Labor leader Keir Starmer to congratulate him on becoming the country’s next prime minister.
Starmer will face a jaded electorate impatient for change against a bleak backdrop of economic turmoil, growing distrust of institutions and a fraying social fabric.
“Tonight the people here and across the country have spoken and they are ready for change,” Starmer told supporters in his north London constituency as the official count showed he had won his seat. “You voted. Now is the time to deliver.”
As thousands of poll workers counted millions of ballots at counting centers across the country, conservatives absorbed the shock of a historic defeat that would leave the depleted party in disarray and likely spark a contest to replace Sunak as leader.
“Nothing has been done for the last 14 years,” said London voter James Erskine, optimistically packing the changes hours before the polls closed. “I see this as the potential for a seismic shift, and I hope so.”
While the results tallied so far suggest Britain will defy recent electoral swings in Europe, including France and Italy, many of the same populist undercurrents are running through the country. Reformist UK leader Nigel Farage has heated up the race with his party’s anti-immigrant “take back our country” sentiment, undermining support from Conservatives who already faced dire prospects.
An exit poll suggested he was on track to win about 410 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons and the Conservatives 131.
With more than half the official results, the broad picture of a Labor landslide was confirmed, although estimates of the final result varied. The BBC predicted that Labor would end up with 410 seats and the Conservatives with 144. Even this higher number of Conservatives would leave the party with the fewest seats in its nearly two-century history and cause chaos.
“It’s clear tonight that Britain will have a new government in the morning,” soon-to-be former defense secretary Grant Shapps said after losing his seat – one of a group of Conservative cabinet ministers defeated.
In a sign of volatile public mood and anger at the system, some smaller parties appear to have fared well, including the centrist Liberal Democrats and Reform UK. Farage won his race in the seaside town of Clacton-on-Sea, securing a seat in Parliament at the eighth attempt.
A key unknown remained whether Farage’s hard-right party would be able to translate its success in capturing more than a few seats in parliament.
Britons vote on paper ballots, marking their choice with a pencil, which are then counted by hand. Final results are expected on Friday morning.
Britain has experienced a series of turbulent years – some of it the Tories’ fault, some not – that have left many voters pessimistic about their country’s future. The UK’s departure from the European Union, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rocked the economy, while then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff’s blockade-breaking parties sparked widespread anger.
Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss, further shook the economy with a package of drastic tax cuts and lasted just 49 days in office. Rising poverty and cuts to public services led to complaints of a “broken Britain”.
Hundreds of communities have been locked in tight contests in which traditional party loyalties come second to more immediate concerns about the economy, crumbling infrastructure and the National Health Service.
In Henley-on-Thames, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of London, voters like Patricia Mulcahy, who is retired, felt the nation was looking for something different. A community that normally votes Conservative may change its stripes this time.
“The younger generation is much more interested in making a difference,” Mulcahy said. “So I think whatever happens at Henley in the country, there will be a big shift. But whoever steps in has a lot of work ahead of them. It won’t be easy.”
Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, said British voters would soon see a marked change in the political atmosphere from the tumultuous “pantomime politics” of recent years.
“I think we’re going to have to get used to a relatively stable government again, with ministers staying in power for quite a long time and the government being able to think beyond very short- to medium-term goals,” he said. .
Labor has not built on its promises to grow a stagnant economy, invest in infrastructure and make Britain a “clean energy powerhouse”.
But nothing really went wrong in her campaign either. The party won the support of much of the business community and support from traditionally conservative newspapers, including the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun tabloid, which praised Starmer for “bringing his party back to the center of British politics”.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, are plagued by gaffes. The campaign got off to an inauspicious start when Sunak was drenched in rain while making an announcement outside 10 Downing Street. Then Sunak returned home early from celebrations in France to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
Several conservatives close to Sunak are under investigation on suspicions that they used confidential information to place bets on the date of the election before it was announced.
Sunak sought to shake off the taint of political chaos and mismanagement that had gathered around the Conservatives.
But for many voters, the lack of trust does not only concern the governing party, but politicians in general.
“I don’t know who it is for me as a working person,” said Michelle Bird, a dock worker in Southampton on England’s south coast who was undecided in the days before the election whether she would vote Labor or Conservative. “I don’t know if it’s the devil you know or the devil you don’t know.

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