Blair Victory Looks Assured As Britons Go To The Polls

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - Britons are voting Thursday in a general election that is expected to deliver Tony Blair a second overwhelming Labor victory in a row, after the closing two polls of the campaign put Labor 15-17 points ahead of the Conservatives.

Voters are casting their ballots at polling stations in 659 geographical constituencies - 529 in England, 72 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland.

The polls, in the Times and the Telegraph, suggest Conservative leader William Hague's recent warning against another Labor landslide may not have improved his party's chances.

The size of the turnout is being closely watched - small turnouts traditionally favor the Conservatives, and experts have warned this election could record the lowest since World War I.

Hague's future as party leader may be in the balance. Only 14 percent of respondents in the Times poll said he would make the most capable prime minister, while Blair won a 51 percent approval rating.

Sources close to Hague are quoted as saying he may resign if the party is unable to improve on its disastrous 1997 showing, when voters brought 18 years of Conservative rule to an end by decisively dumping his predecessor, John Major. Major resigned as party leader hours later.

But if Hague picks up several dozen new seats in the House of Commons, he is more likely to ask the party to back him to head what he has predicted will be a Conservative revival.

Waiting in the wings are those thought most likely to stand for the leadership - former defense secretary Michael Portillo on the liberal wing, home affairs spokesperson Ann Widdecombe on the right, and the party's spokesmen on foreign affairs and defense, Francis Maude and Iain Duncan Smith.

Apart from the major Labor, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, a host of smaller groups are fielding candidates, ranging from the growing United Kingdom Independence Party - campaigning for a complete withdrawal from the European Union -to the anti-abortion Pro-Life Alliance.

Nationalist parties are concentrating on the battles in Scotland and Wales, while left-wingers left without a political home when Blair dragged "New Labor" to the center ground of British politics have the choice of supporting one of three socialist parties.

And on the fringes, as ever in British elections, are the quirky factions. Livening up matters this election day are Ginger Crab of the Jam Wrestling Party and David Bishop, representing the Church of the Militant Elvis Party.

But the prize for the most off-the-wall goes, as usual, to the Monster Raving Loony Party, which is putting up 15 candidates. The party, whose late leader Screaming Lord Sutch is still revered as its "spiritual leader," campaigns under the slogan: "Vote for insanity, you know it makes sense."

One of its two current joint leaders is a cat.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow