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The latest on the U.K. election for a new parliament and prime minister

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A landslide victory, possibly of historic proportions - that's what exit polls indicate has just happened in the United Kingdom, which held an election today for Parliament and prime minister. Ballots are being counted throughout the night. But by morning, it looks like there may be a new prime minister, this time from the center-left Labour Party, which has not won a general election in the U.K. in almost 20 years. NPR's Lauren Frayer spent the day at some of London's polling stations, and now she's crunching the results as they come in. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so even though official results are still getting tabulated, these exit polls do give us a pretty good indication of the big trends, right? Like, what are they, from what you can tell?

FRAYER: They do. Exit polls tend to be reliable here, so people have been sort of waiting with bated breath for them. A big crowd gathered in front of the BBC headquarters to watch photos of the candidates and vote tallies projected onto the side of the building like a hologram. Here's what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: Five, 4, 3, 2, 1...

FRAYER: It kind of felt like New Year's Eve. There were cheers and boos that went up through the crowd when exit poll numbers went up for various parties.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: Oh, oh....

(CHEERING)

FRAYER: And the center-left Labour Party is forecast to have won three times as many seats as the ruling incumbent Conservatives.

CHANG: Wow.

FRAYER: That would be Conservatives' worst election ever and Labour's first victory in nearly 20 years - since Tony Blair.

CHANG: Wow. Well, there are other parties in this election, too, right?

FRAYER: There are. And most notably, the far-right, anti-immigrant Reform UK Party looks like it has also made a strong showing. It's led by Nigel Farage. You might remember him as one of the sort of loudest voices for Brexit.

CHANG: Yeah.

FRAYER: He lost seven previous races for a seat in Parliament. Before this election, his party had zero seats. Now it's forecast to win several. Now, just want to caution - these are exit polls only. Ballot counting continues through the night. We expect to get official results around dawn here.

CHANG: Around Dawn - OK. Well, I know that you've been out talking to voters. What have they been telling you today?

FRAYER: I have. There is one thing I've been hearing over and over again from voters at polling stations today. Here are three of the people I talked to.

NICK BAILEY: Been pretty awful. Everything - nothing is working. Everything is going wrong.

SULTANA BEGUM: Yeah. It's falling apart under conservative, but...

FRAYER: Sir?

JOHN BAYES: You want the truth?

FRAYER: Yeah.

BAYES: It's in a mess. And that's being polite. It's in a mess.

FRAYER: That was Nick Bailey, Sultana Begum and John Bayes. They're from different backgrounds, different generations. They have different politics, but they all said the same thing - that they feel like Britain is in decline, especially since Brexit, which polls show most Britons now regret, and they're punishing the ruling party that presided over that.

CHANG: Wow. Well, then tell us about the man who's likely to be the next British prime minister.

FRAYER: Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, a human rights lawyer, a prosecutor - he's been the leader of the opposition in Parliament - he's inheriting a state hobbled by years of austerity. I talked to David Willetts, a Conservative member of the House of Lords.

DAVID WILLETTS: Keir Starmer faces, I think, a very acute dilemma. Expectations of big change are running very high. On the other hand, his policy list is really very modest and cautious. He doesn't want to be accused of increasing taxes. He seems to be reluctant to make any big promises on public services. So expectations are likely to run far ahead.

CHANG: So probably a very short honeymoon period for the new prime minister. That was NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Thank you so much, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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