THE UK went to polls on Thursday (May 7) with incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron’s bid for a second term on knife-edge as his ruling Conservative Party was locked in a tense electoral battle with the opposition Labour in the country’s closest election in decades.
Britain’s party leaders took the lead as millions began voting. Prime Minister Cameron accompanied by wife Samantha was among the early voters at his Witney constituency in Oxfordshire.
In one of his final interviews before polling began, his message to the voters was: “The future of the country is in your hands. Don’t do something you will regret.”
Labour party’s Ed Miliband, the leader of the Opposition, who is hoping to make an entry into No.10 Downing Street as the new British Prime Minister cast his vote alongside wife Justine almost an hour earlier at his Doncaster North constituency towards southwest of London.
“It will come down to a few hundred votes in a few dozen constituencies. If you’ve got anything to do in the next 36 hours, cancel it,” was his final message.
Other party leaders, including Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg, United Kingdom Independence Party’s Nigel Farage and the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon also cast their votes soon after the polls opened at 0700 (local time) at around 50,000 polling stations across the UK, which will remain open until 2200 (local time).
A total of 650 Westminster MPs will be elected, with about 50 million people registered to vote.
As well as the general election, there are more than 10,000 council seats being contested across 290 English local authorities.
Some votes have been cast before Thursday through postal voting, which accounted for 15 per cent of the total electorate at the 2010 general election, when the overall turnout was 65.1 per cent.
For the first time, people have been able to register to vote online.
Overcrowding famously hit polling stations in 2010 and this time authorities claim to be better-prepared, setting up mobile centres to deal with the extra capacity.
Most of the polling stations are in schools, community centres and parish halls, but pubs, a launderette and a school bus will also be used.
All parties have in recent days intensified their attempts in key marginal constituencies to ensure that thousands of activists are encouraging people to get out and
The latest opinion polls show a neck and neck race between the Conservatives and Labour with the prospect of a hung Parliament looming large.
A YouGov survey tied Labour and the Conservatives on 34 per cent, with UKIP on 12 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 10, the SNP on 5 and the Greens on 4 per cent.
In Scotland, the final poll put the SNP on 48 per cent and Labour on 28 per cent.
Queen Elizabeth II, who remains neutral by not voting, will be thrust centre-stage once the results are declared by tomorrow (May 8) and call on the leader with most support to form the new government.
She would then go on to make the Queen’s Speech in Parliament on May 27, which lays out the new government’s agenda.
Exit polls will begin pouring in soon after the end of voting tonight and the constituency of Sunderland is expected to maintain its lead as the first to declare, at times just an hour after end of the polling by 11 pm.
Barring tight results and numerous recounts, seats in Northumberland, Warwick and Cornwall are likely to be the last to declare.
Historically, certain constituencies have a history of being won by the party that goes on to form the next government.
They are known as bellwethers in reference to the old practice of putting a bell round the neck of a ram so that its ringing would reveal the whereabouts of the flock of sheep that followed him.
Famous bellwether seats include Gravesham (and its predecessor Gravesend) - which spoilt its record when it was won by the Conservatives in 2005 but was back on track by 2010; and Luton South (and its predecessors Luton East and Luton), whose record of going the same way as the UK as a whole goes back to 1951 but foundered in 2010, when Labour won it.