The UK Heads to the Polls

By Rowan Williams
  • Millions to vote in the UK’s closest election in decades
  • Israel’s Netanyahu announces 11th-hour coalition agreement
  • New Zealand-Australian joint national begins trial in China over drug smuggling charges


Across the United Kingdom, millions are heading to the polls in the closest general election in decades. 9,000 council seats are also being voted for today across 279 local authorities. The most recent polls continue to show a dead heat between Labour and the Conservative parties, with each on approximately 35 percent of the vote. Most of the leaders of Britain’s major political parties have already voted, including the Prime Minister. Both major parties are expected to fall short of the 323 seats required for a parliamentary majority, meaning that a hung parliament and coalition government will be likely. All major parties are reported to already be preparing for coalition talks. Observers expect the issue of the ‘legitimacy’ of government to be widely debated should the Conservative Party win the most seats but fall short of a majority. The Conservatives are expected to say that a Labour-led minority government would be illegitimate should it win fewer seats, even if the Conservative Party fails to form a stable coalition. Polling closes at 10pm BST.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a deal forming a new coalition government. The last-minute deal comes seven weeks after his Likud party won Israel’s general election, and just before the deadline for forming a government. Likud has formed a coalition with the Bayit Yehudi party, and now just holds the 61 seats required for a majority in the Israeli parliament. Observers have noted that such a small majority will make maintaining a stable government difficult. The Bayit Yehudi party had demanded control of the justice ministry in return for its support. The Bayit Yehudi party opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, and has called for annexation of some areas of Palestinian territory. The coalition deal, which also incudes several smaller religious and right wing parties, is expected to increase tensions between Israel and the US and Europe.

A New Zealand-Australian joint national has gone on trial in south China for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country, and could face the death penalty should a guilty verdict be returned. Peter Gardner, 25, was arrested in Guangzhou in November 2014 after allegedly carrying 30kg of methamphetamine in his luggage. Under Chinese law, anyone carrying over 50 grams of methamphetamine faces a potential death penalty. Gardner testified on Thursday that he bought the substance believing it to be a muscle-building supplement, and that he did not check the package before attempting to depart. Gardner has admitted wrongdoing, and offered to assist in the identification of Chinese suspects.

The Papers

The general election makes the vast majority of the headlines today. The Independent leads with the headline “Over to you”. The paper observes the figures behind the campaign, noting “tens of millions of pounds of expenditure, thousands of campaign miles, hundreds of photo-opportunities” and so on. The Guardian’s headline reports that “It couldn’t be closer”, with both Labour and the Conservatives on 35 percent in the polls. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Green Party have both suffered a “drop in support”, while parties have already prepared for “coalition talks behind the scenes”. The Times reports that the Queen is to “take control of election aftermath”, with Buckingham Palace making a “U-turn” over the monarch’s role. The Queen will now read the Queen’s speech regardless of whether or not the Prime Minister is expected to command enough support for the speech. Palace authorities had previously said the Queen would not read the speech if its support in parliament could not be guaranteed. The Daily Telegraph tells readers “Don’t do something you’ll regret” in its headline, with the Prime Minister warning that a vote for UKIP “would result in a Labour government propped up by the SNP”. The Financial Times leads with news that a jump in the price of oil has quickened a “sell-off in international debt markets”. Crude oil is now nearing US$70 a barrel, the paper reports, the highest price in 2015 so far.

British Media on China

On the trial of Peter Gardner: The trial of New Zealand-Australian joint national Peter Gardner in Guangzhou for drug smuggling offences has received coverage from the BBC and The Guardian. The BBC writes that “China was been waging a crackdown on the illegal drug trade”. Several Australian citizens are “facing the death penalty in China for drugs charges”, the BBC reports. The Guardian’s agency piece writes that Gardner thought the drug he carried “was muscle builder”.

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