After 14 years and five prime ministers, austerity, the cost of living crisis, the public health system at its limit, the Tories have attracted so much grievance from the British people that the campaign has led them to simply aim to limit the damage.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak concedes that the challenge now is to prevent Labour from having a “super majority”.

Barring any surprises, it is Labour's Keir Starmer, a 61-year-old former lawyer, who will be given the task of forming a government by King Charles III on Friday, after bringing his party back to the centre-left and promising to return “seriousness” to power.

His arrival in Downing Street would be that of a moderate, at a time when the far right is knocking on the door of power in France and the spectre of a return of Donald Trump hangs over the American presidential election in the autumn.

“Change. Today you can vote for it,” wrote Keir Starmer, who entered politics only nine years ago, on X.

He marked his ballot paper in the morning in north London, arriving hand in hand with his wife Victoria.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak voted for him early this morning in his constituency in the north of England, with his wife Akshata Murty. On X, he raised the spectre of higher taxes “for the rest of your life”.

– “Everything went wrong” –
The first estimates are expected when polling stations close at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. GMT), before the results are rolled in until the early hours of the morning.

“It's time for change, isn't it?” says Peter Warren, a 43-year-old sales manager interviewed by AFP at St Albans station on the outskirts of London. “I'm hopeful but I'm not sure things are going to get that much better,” he continues, reflecting the caution and lack of enthusiasm of many Britons regarding the upcoming change.

Returning to London from Australia, Ianthe Jacob, a 32-year-old writer, believes that “everything has gone wrong” in the UK, citing the state of the public health system and the way trans people are treated. “How did a developed country get to this point?” she asks outside her polling station in the east of the capital.

While the outcome of the vote does not seem to be in any suspense, questions remain about the extent of the defeat for the Conservatives, who have been trailing by around twenty points for months, or about the score of the anti-immigration Reform UK party of former Brexit champion Nigel Farage.

According to the latest YouGov poll, Labour would win 431 MPs to the Tories' 102 – a majority not seen since 1832. The Lib Dems would win 78 seats and Reform three, allowing Nigel Farage to enter parliament after seven failed attempts.

– Rain and blunders –
For Rishi Sunak, the fifth Conservative Prime Minister since 2010, these elections, called during an announcement in the rain, mark the end of a campaign that turned into an ordeal.

The 44-year-old former investment banker and finance minister has made a series of blunders and appeared to lack political acumen, cutting short his appearance at celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings and slowing to respond to suspicions of fraudulent betting in his camp over the date of the elections.

Opposite, Keir Starmer highlighted his modest origins – mother a nurse and father a toolmaker – contrasting with his multimillionaire opponent. He promised very rigorous management of public spending, without tax increases for the majority of Britons.

He is counting on restored stability, state intervention and investment in infrastructure to revive growth and restore public services.

He wants to be firm on migration issues and move closer to the European Union – without joining it, as the Brexit debates have fractured the country.

His caution has allowed him to garner support in business circles and in parts of the conservative press, such as the tabloid The Sun, while the prestigious daily The Times (centre-right) has refused, a rare occurrence, to comment.

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