Home » In the UK election campaign’s final hours, Sunak battles to the end as Labour’s Starmer eyes victory

In the UK election campaign’s final hours, Sunak battles to the end as Labour’s Starmer eyes victory

In the UK election campaign’s final hours, Sunak battles to the end as Labour’s Starmer eyes victory

LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak has covered thousands of miles in the past few weeks, but he hasn’t outrun the expectation that his time as Britain’s prime minister is in its final hours.

United Kingdom voters will cast ballots in a national election Thursday, passing judgment on Sunak’s 20 months in office, and on the four Conservative prime ministers before him. They are widely expected to do something they have not done since 2005: Elect a Labour Party government.

During a hectic final two days of campaigning that saw him visit a food distribution warehouse, a supermarket, a farm and more, Sunak insisted “the outcome of this election is not a foregone conclusion.”

He said Wednesday that whatever the outcome, he had a “clear conscience.”

“As long as I can look myself in the mirror and know that I am working as hard as I can, doing what I believe is right for the country, that is how I get through, and that is what I believe I am doing,” Sunak said.

But even a last-minute pep talk at a Conservative rally Tuesday night by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who led the party to a thumping election victory in 2019 — did little to lift the party’s mood. Conservative Cabinet minister Mel Stride said Wednesday it looked like Labour was heading for an “extraordinary landslide.”

Labour warned against taking the election result for granted, imploring supporters not to grow complacent about polls that have given the party a solid double-digit lead since before the campaign began. Labour leader Keir Starmer has spent the six-week campaign urging voters to take a chance on his center-left party and vote for change. Most people, including analysts and politicians, expect they will.

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Labour has not set pulses racing with its pledges to get the sluggish economy growing, invest in infrastructure and make Britain a “clean energy superpower.”

But nothing has really gone wrong, either. The party has won the support of large chunks of the business community and endorsements from traditionally conservative newspapers including the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times and tabloid The Sun. The Sun said in an editorial Wednesday that “by dragging his party back to the center ground of British politics for the first time since Tony Blair was in No.10, Sir Keir has won the right to take charge.”

Former Labour candidate Douglas Beattie, author of the book “How Labour Wins (and Why it Loses),” said Starmer’s “quiet stability probably chimes with the mood of the country right now.”

“The country is looking for fresh ideas, moving away from a government that’s exhausted and divided,” Beattie said. “So Labour are pushing at an open door.”

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have been plagued by gaffes. The campaign got off to an inauspicious start when rain drenched Sunak as he made the announcement outside 10 Downing St. on May 22. Then on June 6, Sunak went home early from commemorations in France marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, missing a ceremony alongside United States President Joe Biden and France’s Emmanuel Macron.

Several Conservatives close to Sunak are being investigated by the gambling regulator over suspicions they used inside information to place bets on the date of the election before it was announced.

It has all made it harder for Sunak to shake off the taint of political chaos and mismanagement that’s gathered around the Conservatives since Johnson and his staff held lockdown-breaching partie s during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss, rocked the COVID-weakened economy with a package of drastic tax cuts, making a cost-of-living crisis worse, and lasted just 49 days in office. There is widespread dissatisfaction over a host of issues, from a dysfunctional public health care system to crumbling infrastructure.

But for many voters, the lack of trust applies not just to Conservatives, but to politicians in general. Veteran rouser of the right, Nigel Farage, has leaped into that breach with his Reform U.K. party and grabbed headlines, and voters’ attention, with his anti-immigration rhetoric.

The centrist Liberal Democrats and environmentalist Green Party also want to sweep up disaffected voters from the bigger parties.

Across the country, voters say they want change but aren’t optimistic it will come.

“I don’t know who’s for me as a working person,” said Michelle Bird, a port worker in Southampton on England’s south coast who was undecided about whether to vote Labour or Conservative. “I don’t know whether it’s the devil you know or the devil you don’t.”

Conner Filsell, a young office worker in the London suburbs, would like a roof of his own.

“I still live at home. I would love to be able to have my own place, but the way things are going it’s just not on the cards,” he said.

Lise Butler, senior lecturer in modern history at City University of London, said that signs point to this being “a change election in which the Conservatives are punished.” But she said that if Starmer wins, “the years to come … may be challenging.”

“He’ll probably be facing constant attacks on various grounds from left and right,” she said. “So I think that while the outcome of this election is pretty clear, I think all bets are off in terms of what, what Labour’s support is going to look like over the next few years.”

Starmer has agreed that his biggest challenge is “the mindset in some voters that everything’s broken, nothing can be fixed.”

“And secondly, a sense of mistrust in politics because of so many promises having been made over the last 14 years which weren’t carried through,” he told broadcaster ITV on Tuesday. “We have to reach in and turn that around.”

Many election experts expect a low turnout, below the 67% recorded in 2019. Yet this election may bring a scale of change Britain has not seen for decades if it delivers a big Labour majority and a diminished Conservative Party.

In Moreton-in-Marsh, a pretty town of honey-colored stone buildings in western England’s Cotswold hills, 25-year-old Evie Smith-Lomas relished the chance to eject the area’s longstanding Conservative lawmaker.

“This has been a Tory seat forever, for 32 years, longer than I’ve been alive,” she said. “I’m excited at the prospect of someone new. I mean I think 32 years in any job is too long. You surely have run out of ideas by now.”


Associated Press video journalist Tian Macleod Ji in Moreton-in-Marsh, England, contributed to this report.