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Voters Head To The Polls In The U.K.


It is election day in the United Kingdom. Polls are open to choose members of parliament. And it's a high-stakes vote - about a week and a half before the U.K. begins negotiations to leave the European Union. The race was supposed to be a cakewalk for Prime Minister Theresa May's Tory Party, but that hasn't exactly gone to plan. NPR's Frank Langfitt is at a polling station in south London. Frank, what's it like there?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's pretty busy. I'm actually out in front of St. Michael's Church here. And I'm in a place called Croydon. It's kind of - started off as a working-class neighborhood. But it's gotten - been moving up. There's a lot of construction here. And it's a mix of folks.

It's also called a marginal constituency, which we'd say in America, swing district. So the conservative Tory Party controls it. But it was very narrow vote in 2015. I'm sure labor - the Labour Party is hoping to maybe pick up a seat here.

INSKEEP: You mentioned a very narrow vote in 2015. Thanks for the reminder that Britain has voted a lot recently. How did we get to one more election?

LANGFITT: Well, we got one more election because Theresa May, the prime minister, actually promised she wouldn't call election. And then in April, she was looking at the polls. She saw that she was up by 20 points and thought, great time for an election. I'll get a big majority in parliament. I'll be able to do exactly what I want on Brexit. And I'll come in with a really strong hand going into the EU in Brussels for negotiations. And now the average is down to six points. So it's not at all what she imagined when she called this a few months ago - much tighter race than people thought it would be.

INSKEEP: Yes, six points. I guess that would still mean the conservatives are pretty heavily favored to win. But...

LANGFITT: They would. They are favored to win.

INSKEEP: But we're not talking about a landslide victory here anymore.

LANGFITT: No, not at all. And the reason - it's really interesting what's happened in the last two and a half months. Jeremy Corbyn, he is a socialist. He leads the Labour Party. He's often been seen, frankly, Steve, as pretty lousy on the stump. He's improved a lot. People like what they're hearing from him.

He's been running a kind of a Bernie Sanders - Sandersesque (ph) campaign, looking for a lot more funding for the National Health Services, which has really suffered. He's offering free higher education. So really focusing on younger voters. And he's picked up a lot of younger voters. It's one reason he's doing much better.

May has turned out kind of in the flip - not as good a campaigner people thought she might have been. And then, of course, these last two and a half months we've had three terror attacks. And that sort of undermined her position as one of her campaign slogans is strong and stable leadership. And things have not felt stable here, certainly, in the last couple of months.

INSKEEP: OK. So just a reminder, you said you were at St. Michael's Church, which is in south London. You said you're in a swing area - marginal constituency, as you put it. What are voters telling you there?

LANGFITT: Well, most of the people I've been talking to here are Labour voters. And they have been basically saying they like what Corbyn is doing for them. They feel a bit forgotten by the conservative party. They don't feel - they feel like the conservatives and Mrs. May are not that interested in them. And they're looking for a party that really reaches out to them.

On the other hand, when you talk to Tory voters here, they don't have much faith in Corbyn. They think that he's not going to be a tough Brexit negotiator. He's seen as pretty soft. And I was talking to a guy named Adrian Simon (ph). He's a banker. He works as a banker in London. This is a bedroom community. He decided to vote conservative because he thinks that Theresa May is going to be a much tougher negotiator. And here's what he said earlier this morning.

ADRIAN SIMON: I don't know. I think she's a stronger negotiator than Jeremy. I just can't see Jeremy Corbyn sitting up with the EU and negotiating. I think, quite honestly, the European politicians will chew him up and spit him out.

INSKEEP: Although you said, Frank Langfitt, that there were Labour voters who rather liked Jeremy Corbyn, he's been seen, at least here, as a guy who's not considered credible at all as a prime minister. Do you find voters who find Corbyn a credible alternative?

LANGFITT: You know, I don't know that they have great confidence in him in terms of his leadership style. But I think that people respect him. The Labour voters here really respect him. They think that he is going to do what he says he will do in terms of looking out for them. And they feel that he really does care for their interests. And I think it feels, also, to me, like a very emotional vote.

What's fascinating, Steve, in just the final moments we have, terrorism has not been coming up much. People seem very fatalistic about it. It's not moving people in the final days of this election.

INSKEEP: OK. Frank, thanks very much as always. Pleasure to hear from you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in south London. Britain is holding an election today Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.