Theresa May Faces Uncertain Fate As U.K. Voters Go To The Polls

Jun 8, 2017
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Polls are closed in Britain. Voters are choosing a new Parliament after Prime Minister Theresa May called for elections three months ago. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in London, covering this election. She joins us now. And Eleanor, I know you've been watching the exit polls closely. What are you hearing so far?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Audie, actually it's a big shock. Projections show that not only did Prime Minister Theresa May not increase her majority as she set out to do, but she doesn't even have a majority anymore. She lost 17 seats if the projections are right. So she's going to have to put together a coalition to govern, and yet she was hoping to increase her majority by up to a hundred seats a couple months ago when she called this election.

And you know, I'm watching the results at the London School of Economics. There's analysts and journalists and just regular people. And this is how shocked people were. So at - when Big Ben chimes 10 o'clock at night...

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BEARDSLEY: ...They come out with the projections. They're looking at the screen, everybody, and then you hear the reaction when they digest it.

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BEARDSLEY: I mean people just start yelling. They're shocked.

CORNISH: And as we mentioned, these are exit polls. I mean do we know how reliable they are?

BEARDSLEY: Typically, Audie, they have been reliable because, you know, they ask people not how you intend to vote but how did you vote. So they have typically been reliable. But they're not, you know, ironclad. We're supposed to have the final results around 6 in the morning U.K. time.

CORNISH: Now, Theresa May and her main opponent, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - they've not been described as very exciting campaigners. Did people believe that that affected turnout?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, I think it did affect turnout. People tell me that. They're both - have been described as uninspiring. I was going by a pub tonight, and I spoke with Andrew Dent. He's a - owns a digital marketing firm. He's a businessman, says he cares about his country and Brexit. But he says he's disappointed. He compared Britain to France and Canada. Here's what he told me.

ANDREW DENT: I didn't vote because nobody inspired me to go out of my busy day to get behind them. For me, what we're missing in the U.K. is a personality. We don't have a Macron. We don't have a Trudeau. We should have somebody with personality, charm, good looks who can stand up and be an independent and bring the voice of the country with them. You know, we're left with bland personalities that don't inspire swing voters to identify with anyone.

CORNISH: Now, Britain was hit with two terror attacks within weeks of this election, and those attacks in London in Manchester, as we know, killed 30 people. How has that seemed to influence this election?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Audie, it totally influenced it. You know, three terrorist attacks, and Theresa May's message was stability, continuity. Stay with, you know, the Tories, and everything will stay the same. So people wondered, my God, can they even keep us safe? National security was a huge, huge issue in the campaign.

But you know, she went into this. She called the election. She didn't have to. She went into it with 20 points up. She felt strong, like she could increase her majority. She squandered it, analysts say. She made a lot of gaffes, U-turns. She didn't show up to several debates, and there were three terrorist attacks. And as it turns out, it came out that as home minister, she was the one who slashed 20,000 police.

And then Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, outperformed expectations. He inspired young people talking about free university. And analysts are saying that the youth vote really came out for him today.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, what does this all mean for Britain's future?

BEARDSLEY: You know, Britain is going into these Brexit negotiations with the EU. They've been, you know, in this $500 million market for the last 50 years - most important negotiations in a generation, and they're weakened if the predictions are right - weakened, not divided. They're not going in with a mandate and an upper hand. It does not bode well, and the pound is dropping.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in London. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.