Polls tighten on eve of Britain’s Brexit election

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (C) talks with a man (L) about Palestine, as he greets supporters during a general election campaign event in Dinnington, near Sheffield, northern England on December 11, 2019. Britain will go to the polls tomorrow to vote in a pre-Christmas general election. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Polls tighten on eve of Britain’s Brexit election

  • Polls open on Thursday for the third time in four years in what is widely seen as a re-run of the 2016 referendum

MIDDLESBROUGH: Britain’s political party leaders on Wednesday criss-crossed the country in a frantic last-minute push for votes, after polls predicted a tight finish to a highly-charged general election aimed at settling the long-running Brexit crisis.
Polls open on Thursday for the third time in four years in what is widely seen as a re-run of the 2016 referendum in which a narrow majority opted to leave the EU.
Parliament’s splintered parties — some seeking broader independence and others wanting to keep Britain’s European ties — repeatedly rejected the divorce terms former prime minister Theresa May struck with Brussels.
Her tearful resignation brought Boris Johnson into the fray with a vow to succeed where she had failed.
The former London mayor and foreign minister has spent the campaign hammering home a “Get Brexit Done” message aimed solely at winning a majority that could let him get the deal passed by the end of next month.
Yet a closely watched poll showed his Conservatives’ lead over the main opposition Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn narrowing.
The YouGov study showed the Tories on course for a 28-seat majority in the 650-seat House of Commons under Britain’s first-past-the-post system.
It had forecast a 68-seat edge in a poll released on November 27.
“A Conservative majority is the most likely outcome but a hung parliament remains entirely plausible,” said University of Kent professor Matthew Goodwin.
A result in which the biggest party does not command a majority raises the possibility of Brexit being delayed for years or even canceled in a second referendum.
It could also end the political career of Johnson — a sharply polarizing figure whose appeal to core Tory voters made him the logical choice to replace the increasingly hapless May.
“It could not be tighter,” Johnson said while helping to load milk bottles onto delivery vehicles while campaigning in northern England. “We’re fighting for every vote.”
Turnout will be vital in Britain’s first December election in nearly a century. Rain and even snow are forecast for parts of election day.
Corbyn is a veteran leftist campaigner who confounded pollsters by coming within a whisker of winning the last election in 2017.
The teetotal socialist is pushing a radically left-wing program to overhaul public services and “end austerity” caused by the global financial meltdown of 2008-09.
But his vague stance on Brexit and accusations of anti-Semitism in Labour have forced several top members out of the party and shadowed his campaign.
Corbyn told the undecided that they could vote for “hope.”
“We will put money in your pocket because you deserve it. The richest and big business will pay for it,” he said.
Corbyn’s proposal for Brexit is for Labour to strike a more EU-friendly agreement with Brussels. Voters would then choose between that deal and the option of staying in the bloc.
But Brexit remains a political liability for Labour. Corbyn has said as little as possible about the subject and steered attention toward the taxpayer-funded National Healthcare System (NHS).
Labour accuses Johnson of abandoning the principle of free treatment for all by potentially opening up the NHS to “Big Pharma” in a post-Brexit trade deal with US President Donald Trump.
Both Johnson and Trump deny the claims.
Polling suggests Corbyn stands almost no chance of winning the election outright.
Yet support from the pro-EU Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats could still make him the first Labour prime minister since Gordon Brown in 2010.
SNP backing for a Labour coalition government could come at the cost of a promise to back a second referendum on Scottish independence.
The YouGov poll said the SNP was gaining momentum and on course to win 41 seats. But it projected just 15 seats for the Liberal Democrats.
Analysts believe the party made a mistake by initially promising to simply cancel Brexit.
“I don’t want Brexit of course, but we have to be pragmatic, it was a referendum, we have to abide by that,” Londoner Steve Banham told AFP.
The Lib Dems now promise to back a second referendum. But this stance makes them almost indistinguishable from Corbyn’s Labour.
Some potential voters voiced dispair at Britain’s political mess.
“Everyone thinks it’s all going to be over at the end of January if the Conservatives win but it won’t, it will just go on for years,” said voter Judy Wilkinson.


Bollywood superstar Padukone summoned by police in drugs probe

Updated 23 September 2020

Bollywood superstar Padukone summoned by police in drugs probe

  • The 34-year-old’s suicide initially triggered a debate over mental health in the multi-billion-dollar industry
  • But his family disputed reports that he suffered from depression and accused Chakraborty of stealing his money

MUMBAI: Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone has been summoned for questioning as part of an escalating drugs probe into the suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, Indian police said late Wednesday.
The investigation has already seen actress Rhea Chakraborty arrested for allegedly buying drugs for her former boyfriend Rajput, who was found dead in June in his Mumbai apartment — with police saying he took his own life.
A star with many hit movies to his name, the 34-year-old’s suicide initially triggered a debate over mental health in the multi-billion-dollar industry.
But his family disputed reports that he suffered from depression and accused Chakraborty, 28, of stealing his money and harassing him. She has strongly denied the allegations.
Rajput’s death has sparked a media storm in India, where calls have mounted for a wider probe into Bollywood’s so-called “drugs mafia,” with television channels speculating that Chakraborty supposedly drove Rajput to suicide by purchasing cannabis for him.
India’s top anti-crime agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, has been probing his death since last month. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) was looking into his consumption of cannabis.
Earlier this week, TV channel TimesNow broadcast sections of a WhatsApp conversation about procuring hash, alleging that the two people chatting were Padukone and her manager.
K.P.S. Malhotra, deputy director of the NCB, told AFP the agency had summoned Padukone as well as actresses Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor and Rakul Preet Singh for questioning.
The police have already detained others in connection with the case including Chakraborty’s brother and a member of Rajput’s house staff.
The investigation has grabbed headlines for months, and some celebrities including actresses Vidya Balan and Sonam Kapoor have accused TV channels of carrying out a “witch hunt” against Chakraborty.
Born in the eastern state of Bihar, Rajput quit his engineering studies to pursue a career in acting.
He got his big break in 2013 with “Kai Po Che,” a film about cricket, love, and politics that won acclaim at the Berlin film festival.
He was also lauded for his portrayal of Indian cricket hero Mahendra Singh Dhoni in a hit 2016 biopic.
In an interview with AFP that year, Rajput spoke of the emotional rollercoaster he experienced while filming the movie, which portrayed the heartbreak suffered by Dhoni when his girlfriend died.
“After we did the preparation, in my head I was him and everything that was happening was actually affecting me,” he said.