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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Labour Party Set To Sweep U.K. Vote

LONDON — Britons cast ballots Thursday in schools, village halls and even a fish-and-chip shop, in a vote widely expected to yield Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party its second landslide win and deal William Hague's Conservatives a crushing defeat.

Blair's likely election triumph, though, was clouded by prospects for a low voter turnout, together with a plummeting pound. As ballot boxes filled across Britain, the sterling touched 15-year lows against the dollar — read as a reflection of worries about the country eventually joining the single European currency.

The government leans toward closer European union, but has insisted it would not take Britain into the common currency — the euro — without referendum approval. The Conservatives had pinned their campaign to anti-euro sentiment, but managed to make little dent in Blair's commanding lead in the polls.

Final pre-vote opinion surveys pushed Labour's lead to 15 points, suggesting the party could equal or perhaps better its majority in the 659-seat House of Commons. Determined not to allow complacency to erode its margin, Labour campaigned as if every seat were at risk, imploring voters to give the 48-year-old prime minister another term.

"I think Blair deserves another chance — he's only getting started," said voter Charlie Jones after casting his ballot.

In some constituencies, though, early voting patterns pointed to the possibility of a turnout sharply lower than the country's traditional 70 percent-plus voter participation.

A smiling Blair walked with his wife and teenage children through a field strewn with buttercups to vote near his home in Sedgefield.

Hague, unfazed by weeks of media ridicule, managed a joke about his negative image as he and his wife, Ffion, prepared to vote in his native Yorkshire. "I've even brought my polling card, in case you didn't know who we were," he quipped.

The Conservatives, crushed in Labour's 1997 landslide after 18 years in power, are fighting to regain their standing. They campaigned against an "arrogant" governing party they said was in need of a lesson at the ballot box.

Libby Gerald, a doctor, heeded that message. "Blair's done a good job," she said. "But he's cocky and needs some opposition."

The smaller opposition Liberal Democrats have laid claim to some of the leftward territory Labour relinquished in its move toward the center. They promise increased spending on public services and forthrightly acknowledged that would mean higher taxes.

The Liberal Democrat leader, 41-year-old Scotsman Charles Kennedy, visited a polling station at the southern end of Loch Ness, although he had already cast his ballot by post. "Nice day for voting!" he said as rain pelted down.

Polls closed just after midnight Moscow time and most official results were expected Friday morning.

Under Britain's parliamentary system, the prime minister does not directly campaign for election. Instead, the party that wins a majority in the House of Commons forms the government, and its leader becomes prime minister.

Londoner Gillian Ensor-Hofma said she voted for Blair because he was "reasonably better" than his opponents. "And if you don't vote," she said, "you can't complain."