(LONDON) Voters cast their ballots in England on Thursday in a test local ballot for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the struggling ruling Conservatives ahead of a legislative election slated for next year.
More than 8,000 seats are at stake in 230 local authorities across England. Polls opened at 7 a.m. (2 a.m. EST) and will close at 10 p.m. (5 p.m. EST) with an unprecedented requirement to show ID to vote .
This change is causing a stir and has been called by its critics a threat to democracy because of the number of voters who risk being excluded. In the ranks of Labor, some MPs denounce a decision intended to counter the advance which is theirs, according to the polls.
The Electoral Reform Society, opposed to the new requirement, said it had seen “countless examples” of voters being prevented from voting.
But the Association of Electoral Administrators, which brings together local administrators of the polls, assured in the early afternoon that the vote was going “as well as usual”.
The traditionally low turnout election is the first since Rishi Sunak came to power in late October after a succession of Boris Johnson-era scandals and Liz Truss’ chaotic 49 days in Downing Street.
The Prime Minister is not expecting a miracle. “We always said it would be a tough election for us,” he said on Wednesday, citing among his promises to patch more potholes, a scourge on Britain’s roads.
According to polling specialist John Curtice, a political scientist at the Scottish University of Strathclyde, a lead of more than 10 points for Labor over the Conservatives bodes well for a victory for the opposition in the legislative elections which are due to take place by the end of next year. Their date is not yet fixed.
Before coming to power in 1997 and 2010 respectively, Labor Tony Blair and Conservative David Cameron both had successes with double-digit leads in local elections preceding the general elections, Curtice told the BBC. .
In their final face-off in Parliament on Wednesday before the poll, Opposition Leader Keir Starmer lashed out at the Tories, who have been in power for 13 years. He spoke of the nearly two million Britons who will have to pay more for their mortgage because Rishi Sunak’s party “used their money like a casino”, an allusion to the consequences of Liz Truss’s risky financial decisions which caused the interest rates.
In response, Rishi Sunak pitted Labour’s “higher local taxes” and “broken promises” against him.
Opinion polls show that voters are mainly concerned about rising prices, which have exceeded 10% for months, and the crisis in the public health system, hit by repeated strikes and in particular an unprecedented movement of nurses .
The most unfavorable polls predict a loss of 1,000 seats to the Conservatives.
The latter already believe that a decline below a thousand seats would be equivalent to a victory.
The results are expected very gradually over the course of the day on Friday, on the eve of the coronation of King Charles III at Westminster Abbey.
A ‘focus group’, a focus group of voters meant to gauge public sentiment, delivered a scathing verdict on the conservatives, though Rishi Sunak fared slightly better personally. Asked by the ‘More in Common’ think tank to describe the state of the UK in one word, participants cited ‘broken’, ‘mess’, ‘mess’, ‘struggles’ and ‘ crisis “.
And even among local Tory elected officials, often seen as supporters of Boris Johnson, some seem unconvinced by the current prime minister.
According to a Savanta poll published on Thursday, a quarter of them say they are “dissatisfied” with the party’s leadership, and a third “dissatisfied” with the country’s leadership.