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What to Look For as U.K. Voters Go to the Polls in a Volatile Year

On the campaign trail, and in front of television viewers, Mrs. May appeared awkward and uncomfortable, better at repeating slogans than discussing substance, while refusing to debate other party leaders face to face.

And it was Mr. Corbyn, 68, who has had an excellent campaign, especially given low expectations. A man of the farther left, he has pushed the party and its platform that way, promising increased social benefits and more spending on everything from the health service to the police.

He wants to renationalize the railways and water system, stop charging for tuition and raise taxes sharply on corporations and those earning over 80,000 pounds a year, or about $ 103,000.

Mr. Corbyn and Labour have solidified their vote and narrowed the gap with the Conservatives, but the opinion polls have a lot of variance in how far the Conservatives may be ahead.

Some even suggest that Mr. Corbyn, with his left-wing populism, is a kind of Donald J. Trump figure (the comparison was once to Bernie Sanders), and that Mrs. May is a kind of right-wing Hillary Clinton.

Still, Mrs. May looks likely to win, helped by the inability of the centrist Liberal Democrats to make much headway with their promise to have another referendum on Brexit, as well as the collapse of the far-right U.K. Independence Party, which favored Brexit and whose voters have moved in large numbers to the Conservatives.

The landslide Mrs. May had originally hoped for seems less likely, though British polls have a weak record, and this has been a volatile year.

A lot will depend on last-minute decisions and on the size of the turnout, especially among young people, who favor Labour.

If she does not win a majority of 40 to 50 seats, compared with the majority of 12 won in 2015, she may prove to be vulnerable inside her party. If she loses badly and there is a hung Parliament, all bets are off.

The terrorist attacks on young concertgoers in Manchester on May 22 and on Londoners last Saturday raised security and police budget cuts as a major campaign issue. Mrs. May, who was home secretary for six years, was criticized for presiding over a security apparatus that clearly made mistakes. But security and defense are issues on which Mr. Corbyn is considered more vulnerable, having been an opponent of previous antiterrorism legislation and known to be sympathetic to groups like Sinn Fein and Hamas.

As Britain votes, here are some of the main things to note about this strange election.

Marginal Seats

In British elections, only a minority of the 650 contested seats tend to change hands. And now, as in years past, each party has its target seats — those in which it came second relatively narrowly in 2015 and so can hope to win this time. In 2015, Labour finished second in 48 seats, the Conservatives in 46 and the Liberal Democrats in 16.

If Mrs. May is going to increase her majority, she needs to win marginal seats from Labour, especially in northern England and the Midlands where many traditional Labour supporters voted for the U.K. Independence Party and Brexit and do not think so highly of Mr. Corbyn and his policies.

Examples are places like Birmingham Edgbaston or Birmingham Northfield, where UKIP polled well and has largely collapsed, or Chester, which the Tories lost by fewer than 100 votes.

Mrs. May has done a lot of campaigning in such Labour-held marginal seats, while Mr. Corbyn has largely campaigned in Labour-held seats the party is determined to retain. Examples of seats Labour could win back would be Derby North, Croydon and Bury North, where the party lost by fewer than 500 votes.

“My sense is that Labour’s strategy is damage limitation,” said Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of political science at the University of Bristol. “For Labour to think about taking power it would have to make huge inroads into seats that it lost not only in 2015 but 2010 — even back in 2005 probably,” he said.

Turnout and the Youth Vote

Britain is an aging society, and those in their 60s and older vote overwhelmingly Conservative. Mr. Corbyn, who has promised free tuition, is popular among the young. Encouragingly for him, more than one million people under 25 have applied to vote.

Analysts are cautious, however. In the past, many have not been new voters but people who had forgotten they were already registered.

Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said young people vote in such low numbers that he normally jokes that parties “might as well target the dead.” But he thinks there is a small chance that this election might be an exception, but it may also be true that young people may not vote so heavily in marginal constituencies.

Losing Seats in Scotland

The Scottish National Party, behind Nicola Sturgeon, practically swept the board in 2015, winning 56 of 59 seats and destroying Labour in Scotland, which once was a Labour fief. While the Scottish National Party will do very well, it is expected to lose some seats — more to the Conservatives, who are reviving there under Ruth Davidson, than to Labour.

The Scottish National Party wants an independent Scotland and is pushing for a softer Brexit that preserves free trade with the European Union; the Conservatives want to preserve the union with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Tumult in Northern Ireland

The province is in some political turmoil, without a functioning local assembly after the collapse of a power-sharing agreement between the Democratic Unionist Party, which is the main Protestant party, and Sinn Fein, the main Catholic party.

In national elections, Sinn Fein refuses to take the seats it wins in Westminster, and the Unionists in general will support the Conservatives if necessary. Brexit will have a major impact on the province because it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain a part of the European Union.

The reversion to the traditional, two-party structure of British politics could help Labour. “It’s even just about conceivable on the basis of the polls that the two parties would get over 80 percent of the vote, which would be an extraordinary shift back toward the sort of levels they were getting in 1979,” Professor Wickham-Jones said.

Yet this may be only a temporary phenomenon, according to Professor Cowley.

In the past, “these parties were class-based, people felt strongly affiliated to them; they voted for the same party year in, year out,” he said. “That is not going to be true this time.”

Source: NYT > World

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