Polls Close In Tight British Election, Show Lead For Conservative Party
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
A surprise result appears to be shaping-up in today's British elections. They were expected to be a cliffhanger, one of the closest elections in decades, but now exit polls suggest that Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party may have done far better than expected. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now from London.
And Ari, we should mention, polls are now closed. Speaking of polls, what about all those polls leading up to today's vote that suggested this was going to be super tight, a hung election?
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Yeah. It's a little bit shocking. According to the BBC's exit polling, this is not nearly as close as people thought it was going to be. The incumbent Conservatives look like they may have won 316 seats in Parliament compared to 239 seats for the challenger, Labor Party. That is not enough for Conservatives to create a government on their own, but it's better than they did when they took power five years ago. Keep in mind we're not talking about actual vote counts, we're talking about exit polls. These are not final numbers, but if the numbers are true then supporters of the incumbent Prime Minster David Cameron are cheering tonight at the fact that he will likely remain prime minister.
BLOCK: Well, you were out talking with voters today, Ari, and what were you hearing from them when you went to the polls?
SHAPIRO: A lot of exhaustion and happiness that this election is over, which is funny because in the U.K. the election is five weeks. They don't know how lucky they have it.
SHAPIRO: In the United States, we have a constant election. They don't even have TV ads. But a lot of the themes I heard from voters are the same as the themes that you hear from voters in the United States. For example, here's a 64-year-old voter named Alan John who lives in Romford, east of London. He's concerned about growing income inequality, food banks, cuts to the health care system. So he voted Labor - that's the left-leaning party, more or less equivalent to Democrats in the U.S. Here's part of what he said.
ALAN JOHN: The Labor Party was founded by the workers, for the workers, to improve the workers, for the workers' rights. So as you can tell, I'm a very firm Labor supporter. I hate the way the country has gone since World War II. Basically I think the country has been ruined.
BLOCK: So a strong Labor voice there from that voter. What about on the Conservative side? Did you find equal passion from them?
SHAPIRO: Equal passion and again, themes that a lot of American voters will recognize. In the London neighborhood of Tower Hamlets, I spoke with a man named Bernard Magny. He's originally from Canada and he said he's not a party loyalist, but in this election he voted to give Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party another term in power. Here's part of what he said.
BERNARD MAGNY: I think that they're a bit more central and they've been doing well with the economy.
SHAPIRO: What is the most important issue to you in this election?
MAGNY: Well, to reduce my tax, really. (Laughter). I think I'm paying quite a bit and, you know, and I don't think I'm going to be paying less if I vote Labor.
BLOCK: All right. The last big headline we should mention from this election is the Scottish Nationalists. We'll remember that they lost a vote last year to break away from the U.K. It looks like they had their best night ever.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. This is the most incredible comeback story. Scotland used to be a stronghold for the Labor Party and tonight, according to these exit polls - which again, they're not final vote counts - but if the exit polls are correct, the Scottish National Party won every seat in Scotland but one. It was an almost total wipeout for Labor. The leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, says she would treat these polls with caution, but if they are correct, it is not only the best night in the history of the party, it's an unreal comeback story for a group that just last year suffered a terrible defeat in this secession vote.
BLOCK: So Ari, just to recap, a really good - apparently, a good outcome for the Conservatives but not enough votes to have a majority. So when will we know who actually is in charge in Britain?
SHAPIRO: Well, if the Conservatives did as well as it looks like they have done, I think we will probably know by tomorrow who they're going to partner with to form another government to stay in power for - in all likelihood - another five years.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro in London.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome.