UK election

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

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 today, 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.”

“People can see that we have turned a corner,” said the Conservative leader, who has been in office since October 2022. “It has been a difficult few years, but undeniably things are in a better place now than they were.”

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.

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.

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. JILL LAWLESS, LONDON, MDT/AP

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