British voters begin casting their ballots with security, Brexit and health care foremost on their minds

Mary Gallagher voted at the same polling station that Jeremy Corbyn voted at an hour earlier.VIDEO: DAWN TAN WEI
ST VIDEO: TAN DAWN WEI
PHOTO: AFP

LONDON - It feels like any other day in London, except for the 20 or so police officers standing guard around a cordoned Borough Market and signs around schools and churches in the city that say "Polling Stations".

Just five days after three men went on a rampage and killed eight people at the market and nearby London Bridge, Britons are casting their votes on June 8 amid heightened security and questions of which government will better protect them after three terrorist attacks in the country in a span of two months.

But voters say security is not the only issue on their minds. Health care, education, Brexit are also concerns that have shaped their decisions.

"If you want to go to your GPs, you should not have to wait three weeks," said Ms Mary Gallaghar, 75, a retired receptionist who was making her way to Pakeman School to vote. She has lived in Islington North for 50 years, where Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was MP.

"I think he's quite good, you can talk to him about things. He listens to you," she said of Mr Corbyn, who has held the same seat since 1983.

"I don't mind the Conservative government if they do the same thing - look at the health service, the schools."

Mr Corbyn had just been to the same polling station an hour earlier, causing a media scrum along the way.

Near Borough Market, where a large cordon has sealed off restaurants, bars and the market, a handful of people are queuing up at John Harvard Library to cast their ballots. The polling station is 500m from Borough Market and is the closest polling station to the scene of the crime.

Security manager Daniel Alfred, 55, lives five minutes away, and said his children were terrified on the night of the attack.

"When I called home from work, they were panicking. When I got home after my night shift, my doors were triple-locked and I had to get them to open it for me. They were so scared, thinking the terrorists were coming for them," said the Nigerian immigrant who has lived in Britain since 1992.

"The present prime minister was home secretary a year ago. She should've put things in place so that such terrible incidents wouldn't have occurred."

Ms Siobhan Aarons, 36, an international trade counsel, was distributing leaflets for the Conservative Party outside Rotherhithe station at 8am, hoping to make a final push to get people heading to work to vote Tory.

"I've supported the Tories since I was 14. I looked at it in terms of where did I want to be in the future, what opportunities did I want to be made available to me," she said, in between handing out leaflets.

'And it's much better to have a government which provides equality at the base level for you to then go as an individual and make the most of it, rather than giving you enough to make you think you're doing better but actually you find yourself stuck in particular place."

Around the corner in a polling station at St Mary the Virgin church, Labour councillor Bill Williams, 47, pitches up in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops on a blustery morning.

"The Liberals and the Tories did a lot of damage to this country when they were in a coalition together and it's time for a different kind of politics. And I think the Labour Party will be the party that will be able to deliver that," he said.

Less certain was voter Swati Phadka, 33, an accountant.

"Things kept changing and I wasn't as sure as I should be," she said, after casting her vote in the Labour-held constituency.

"It's not about who you want, but who you'd rather not have."

Her husband, Mr Surandra Iyer, 32, also an accountant, was more sure. He went for Labour.

"I've not been very happy with the way the Conservatives have handled the Brexit process in the last one year. Labour might not be any different but they've said they will go for a softer Brexit."

For public relations professional Simon Hinds, 57, it is the Tories' mixed signals over Brexit that he disagrees with.

"I'm confused about the Conservative position on negotiating Brexit. On the one hand, they say we want a deal that's good for both Europe and Britain. On the other hand, they say we need to get our boxing gloves to beat them up to get the best deal we can. They've been lucky they've gotten away with this confusion."

Polls close at 10pm (5am Friday Singapore time) and polling stations expect a crunch between 5pm and 10pm when the majority of voters show up.

 

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