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UK election: Final polls show late surge for Labour, but hung parliament still likely

Ed Miliband, Leader of Britain's Labour Party, and his wife Justine Thornton, arrive to cast their votes in the village of Sutton, near Doncaster, in northern England on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election.
Ed Miliband, Leader of Britain's Labour Party, and his wife Justine Thornton, arrive to cast their votes in the village of Sutton, near Doncaster, in northern England on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. AFP / Oli Scarff

As British voters headed to the polls Thursday, final opinion polls suggested a late surge in support for Labour, but one unlikely to break the deadlock of what is set to be the closest general election the country has seen for decades.


A Guardian/ICM poll based on telephone interviews conducted on Wednesday evening had Labour ahead of the Prime Minister David Cameron’s conservatives by a single point.

Support for Ed Miliband’s party stood at 35 percent, up three points from a poll conducted a week earlier, with the Conservatives down one point on 34 percent.

“All the final polls are now in, and if any late swing has been present nearly all suggest Labour to have been the beneficiary (to this point),” said ICM.

An Ipsos MORI poll for the London Evening Standard had the Conservatives one point ahead, down from a five-point lead the party held a week ago, while Populus also had the parties level on 33 percent.

Independent pollster and former Conservative Party chairman Lord Ashcroft had the two main parties tied, with Labour wiping out a two-point lead by the Conservatives recorded earlier this week.

“This race is going to be the closest we have ever seen,” Miliband told supporters in Pendle, northern England, on the eve of the vote. “It is going to go down to the wire.”

However, because of the peculiarities of Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, an equal nationwide vote-share for the Conservatives and Labour will not necessarily mean an equal number of MPs elected to Parliament.

Leading pollster Peter Kellner of YouGov has predicted the Conservatives will end up with 284 seats to Labour’s 263, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) on 48, Liberal Democrats 31, the anti-European Union UK Independence Party (UKIP) two, Greens one, and Welsh and Northern Irish parties 21.

The Guardian’s ‘poll of polls’ projection, however, had the two main parties tied on 273 seats each.

Locking out the Tories

Either scenario would leave both Labour and the Conservatives well short of the majority they would need in order to govern alone. The most likely scenario therefore will be a flurry of deal-making and negotiations Friday morning as the two main parties scramble to find partners to form a coalition.

This will most likely leave Miliband in the stronger position. With the firmly anti-Conservative SNP set to win a significant block of around 50 seats, the two parties between them could have enough MPs to vote down any attempt by Cameron to form a government.

“If we work together we can lock out the Tories (Conservative Party). We will work with others across the United Kingdom, that is my pledge,” SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said in Edinburgh.

If the polling proves accurate, even if Cameron can strike another deal with current coalition partners the Liberal Democrats and even a handful of UKIP MPs, he will still fall short of the numbers needed to form a government. A deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, though, may be just enough to push him over the line.

While Miliband has ruled out a formal deal with the SNP, it is thought they could still prop up a minority Labour government on a vote-by-vote basis.

Cameron has warned that Miliband will only be able to rule with the help of the pro-independence SNP, a result he says could place the United Kingdom in peril.

The Liberal Democrats have left open the possibility of backing either the Conservatives or Labour, saying they will give whichever party emerges as the largest the first opportunity to attempt to put together a coalition.

If a durable government could not be formed, Britain could face political instability.

When no clear winner has emerged from an election in the past, as happened in 1974 and 1923, another election was held within a year. But a law passed four years ago now makes it much harder to hold a second vote within the 5-year parliamentary term.

Under the new rules, an early election can only be held if two-thirds of MPs approve it.

What would happen if no party is able to put together a workable government and lawmakers refuse to vote for new elections, is uncharted territory.


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