British voters head to the polls in snap general election

Sunday 04/06/2017
Focus on leadership. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at an election campaign event at Pride Park Stadium in Derby, on June 1. (Reuters)

London - Britons head to the polls June 8 in a post-Brexit and post-Manchester cli­mate of tension and un­certainty.

Since British Prime Minister The­resa May called for a snap election on April 18, it has been a campaign dominated by Brexit and the econ­omy. After the Manchester Arena bombing on May 22, security and terrorism also came to the fore.

The Conservative Party, led by May, and the opposition Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, have put forward wildly contrasting eco­nomic and social visions for Brit­ain. Despite being a general elec­tion — meaning that the electorate does not actually vote directly for either leader — the campaigning has been focused on issues of lead­ership.

The Conservatives have looked to bank on the image of May, a for­mer home secretary, as a “strong and stable” leader capable of ne­gotiating Brexit. “You can only de­liver Brexit if you believe in Brexit. You can only fight for Britain if you believe in Britain. You can only deliver for Britain if you have the strength, the plan and the deter­mination to see it through,” May said to voters in the north-east on June 2.

“What we know in this election is that the only other person that can be prime minister… is simply not up to the job. He [Corbyn] doesn’t believe in Britain. He doesn’t have a plan. He doesn’t have what it takes,” she said.

However, Corbyn’s populist left-wing policies, including a major hike in corporate tax to pay for greater investment in the National Health Service and education, has won plaudits.

Early in the campaign, the elec­tion was not expected to be close. Corbyn — having survived an over­whelming vote of no confidence from his own members of parlia­ment last year — was viewed as an easy target and May’s decision to call an election as a strategic mas­ter stroke.

Analysts speculated that May’s “strong and stable” brand of Con­servatism would win in an unprec­edented landslide. As campaigning entered the final week, however, a YouGov poll said that lead had shrunk to 3 percentage points — potentially meaning a hung parlia­ment. Other polls have the Conserv­ative lead at 15 percentage points.

Corbyn, who has historically been on the left of the Labour Party, has always been a strong campaign­er. A populist left-wing message has found support, particularly among young Britons. “The Conservatives want a mandate for their Brexit plan; a plan that puts jobs and liv­ing standards at risk and threatens to turn out country into a low-wage offshore tax haven,” Corbyn said in an election message.

“The party that closed down huge chunks of British industry under Margaret Thatcher and now pays for tax handouts for the rich­est with cuts to vital public services hasn’t changed its spots,” Corbyn warned, pledging to lead a new government “for the many, not the few.”

Unlike Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, there is no far-right party that can expect to win a signif­icant share of the vote. The UK In­dependence Party (UKIP) has made similar arguments to Le Pen’s, in­cluding leader Paul Nuttall suggest­ing that potential extremists should be locked up indefinitely in intern­ment camps, but UKIP is competi­tive in only a few marginal seats.

There is no clear “Muslim vote” in the United Kingdom, as there is in some other European countries. Muslims in Britain split their vote along ethnic, regional and class lines, Runnymede Trust’s 2012 Ethnic Minority British Election study stated. However, the Mus­lim Council of Britain, the largest Muslim umbrella group in Britain, compiled a list of 40 parliamentary seats in which Muslims going to the polls could be decisive.

Writing for Britain’s Independent newspaper, Leeds Mosque Imam Qari Asim called on British Mus­lims to participate in the democrat­ic process.

“As a Muslim citizen, I strongly believe in the right to vote and that we should exercise that right, not least because we have a duty to make our society better, not just for Muslims but for all of us,” he said.

“The votes of British Muslims will count in more constituencies than ever before this year, yet the mainstream political parties have largely either ignored this ethnic group or not courted its votes in an effective way,” he said.