Fri | Jul 20, 2018

UK election: Britons vote for new Parliament

Published:Thursday | June 8, 2017 | 11:19 AM
Police Service of Northern Ireland officers walk into the South Belfast Polling Station at St. Nicolas Parish Hall, Belfast, as voting gets underway in the 2017 general election, on Thursday . – AP

Britain voted Thursday in an election that started out as an attempt by Prime Minister Theresa May to increase her party's majority in Parliament ahead of Brexit negotiations but was upended by terror attacks in Manchester and London during the campaign's closing days.

Voters are choosing all 650 members of the House of Commons after May called the election three years ahead of schedule at a time when her party was well ahead in the polls. But the attacks have forced her to defend the government's record on terrorism, and this week she promised that if she wins she will crack down on extremism — even at the expense of human rights.

Rachel Sheard, who was casting her vote near the site of Saturday's attack in London, said the election had not gone as expected — and that it certainly wasn't about Brexit.

"I don't think that's in the hearts and minds of Londoners at the minute, (not) nearly as much as security is," said Sheard, 22. "It was very scary on Saturday."

Eight people were killed Saturday near London Bridge when three men drove a van into pedestrians then randomly stabbed revellers in an area filled with bars and restaurants. Two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber killed 22 people as they were leaving a concert in Manchester, and five people died during at attack near Parliament on March 22.

The attacks have left Britain on high alert. The official threat level is "severe," the second-highest rating, indicating an attack is "highly likely."

When May called the election seven weeks ago, she was seeking to capitalise on opinion polls showing that her Conservatives had a wide lead over the opposition Labour Party. She became prime minister through a Conservative Party leadership contest when her predecessor, David Cameron, resigned after voters backed leaving the EU. The time seemed right to seek her own mandate from the British people.

She went into the election untested in a national campaign, but with a reputation for quiet competence. May's mantra throughout the campaign was that she was the person to provide "strong and stable" leadership.

But the campaign did not go to plan.