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U.K. Holds A Pivotal General Election, And Voters Bring Their Dogs To The Polls

Dogs wait for their owners outside a polling station in London, part of a popular tradition of taking pets to the polls. The U.K. is voting in a general election to select 650 members of Parliament.
Richard Baker
In Pictures via Getty Images
Dogs wait for their owners outside a polling station in London, part of a popular tradition of taking pets to the polls. The U.K. is voting in a general election to select 650 members of Parliament.

U.K. voters are heading to the polls Thursday for a general election to select 650 members of Parliament — and determine the futures of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The election is expected to have high turnout, with key questions about Brexit left to resolve.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time and were scheduled to close at 10 p.m. (5 p.m. ET). That's when the first projections of the results will likely emerge. So far on election day, the most popular figures at polling stations seem to be dogs.

While politicians stumped for a final push, many voters embraced the hashtag #dogsatpollingstations on Twitter, celebrating the wide range of Labs, collies, retrievers, setters, spaniels and shepherds that got a bit of exercise as their humans exercised their right to vote. Johnson, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and other high-profile voters were photographed taking their dogs to the polls.

The dog-friendly hashtag — which has its own image on Twitter and was trending nationwide Thursday — was also propelled by many British media firms that are forbidden from reporting details about campaigns while voters are at the polls. With political news held at bay, many outlets simply gave the voters what they want, letting dogs loose in their social media channels.

Perhaps reflecting Britain's divisive political sphere, an insurgent campaign was launched by Cats of Birmingham, in the hopes that its "ambassacats" could mount a challenge to dogs and take over what many are calling "pawling places" during the big vote.

Ahead of the U.K.'s election day, polling projections found Johnson's Conservative Party was expected to win the most seats in Parliament — but only enough to secure a small majority.

As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, "The Conservatives have 298 seats in the House of Commons and need to pick up another 28 on Thursday to win a majority."

According to London-based data analytics firm YouGov, the Conservatives were likely to win 339 out of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. But Johnson's party seemed to be losing momentum as the vote neared: As the research company says, "over the last fortnight we've seen the Conservative lead and the number of seats they are projected to win gradually fall."

On election day, Johnson tweeted, "Let's finally get Brexit done." He has campaigned on a policy of leaving the European Union as soon as possible. In contrast, Corbyn has said he wants the U.K. to hold another referendum vote on whether Britons really want to leave the EU. Both leaders are also offering competing plans to improve social services — including revisions to the National Health Service. Corbyn recently tweeted, "You deserve it, the billionaires and big business will pay for it."

Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon urged voters to "lock the Tories out, escape Brexit and put Scotland's future in Scotland's hands." And Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson had a similar message, saying "StopBoris."

With the polarizing Johnson in charge and new Brexit deadlines looming, voter turnout is expected to be high, despite cool and wet weather across much of the U.K.

In the most recent general election two years ago, intense disagreement over the U.K.'s exit from the European Union helped fuel the highest voter interest in 20 years, with every constituency reporting turnout of more than 50%.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.