* Final polls suggest May on course to increase majority
* Security tight five days after London Bridge attack
* May seeks stronger mandate ahead of Brexit talks
* Poll lead over Labour has shrunk during campaign
By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON, June 8 British Prime Minister Theresa
May faces the voters on Thursday in an election she called to
strengthen her hand in looming Brexit talks, with her personal
authority at stake after a campaign that saw her lead in opinion
Security was tight nationwide after two Islamist attacks
killed 30 people in Manchester and London in less than two
weeks, thrusting the issue of how to counter violent extremism
to the top of the agenda in the closing stages of the campaign.
A final flurry of opinion polls gave May's Conservatives a
lead ranging between five and 12 percentage points over the main
opposition Labour Party, suggesting she would increase her
majority - but not win the landslide foreseen when she called
the election seven weeks ago.
Voting begins at 0600 GMT and ends at 2100 GMT. There will
be an exit poll as soon as voting finishes. The first handful of
seat results are expected to be announced by 2300 GMT, with the
vast majority of the 650 constituencies due to announce results
between 0200 GMT and 0500 GMT on Friday morning.
Both main parties were on the defensive after Saturday's van
and knife attack in the heart of London. May faced questions
over cuts in the number of police officers during her six years
as interior minister and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn drew
criticism for, among other things, voting against some
In the final hours of campaigning, both leaders returned to
their core campaign messages.
"If we get Brexit right, we can build a Britain that is more
prosperous and more secure, a Britain in which prosperity and
opportunity is shared by all," May said in a last appeal to
voters to trust her to "knuckle down and get the job done".
After becoming prime minister without an election taking
place in the turmoil that followed last year's EU referendum,
May wants a personal mandate and a parliamentary majority bigger
than the one she inherited from predecessor David Cameron.
Basing her campaign on the slogan of "strong and stable
leadership", she has said she alone could face the 27 other EU
leaders and clinch a deal that would give Britain control over
immigration policy while ensuring favourable trading terms.
She has portrayed Corbyn as the weak and hapless leader of a
spendthrift party that would hit voters with a "tax bombshell",
crash the economy and flounder in the Brexit negotiations.
Corbyn has hit back that Conservative fiscal austerity
imposed since 2010 has hurt the poor and widened social
VIEWS FROM BRUSSELS
May's campaign has not gone to plan, and as the poll leads
of 20 points or more she was enjoying when she called the early
election in April have shrunk, talk of a landslide victory has
faded and her personal standing has taken a hit.
As a result, the extent of her control over her fractious
party and of her margin for manoeuvre going into the Brexit
talks will hinge on the size of her majority, and on whether it
is perceived to be a significant improvement on Cameron's.
Provided she wins, she will have averted at least one risk:
by pushing back the date of the following election to 2022
rather than 2020 as originally planned, she has ensured she will
not face crunch time in the Brexit talks at the same time as an
Some in the EU are hoping May does increase her majority, on
the basis that the main risk for the bloc is a collapse in
talks, and that is more easily avoided with a British government
that is not vulnerable at home.
"We need a government strong enough to negotiate," a senior
EU lawmaker told Reuters this week.
But others have sought to downplay the impact of the
election regardless of the outcome, suggesting that it was
little more than a domestic political sideshow.
"Will the election of more Tory (Conservative) MPs give May
a greater chance of securing a better Brexit deal? For those
sitting around the table in Brussels, this is an irrelevance,"
wrote Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's chief Brexit
negotiator, in an opinion column in the Guardian newspaper.
May's troubles began on May 18, when she announced a new
policy on care for the elderly that quickly proved unpopular.
She backtracked days later, prompting opposition critics to pour
scorn on her central claim to offer strong leadership.
Opponents were quick to remind voters that May had
campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU before embracing Brexit
after the referendum, and that she had insisted for months an
election would not be in the national interest before calling
May has reacted by sticking steadfastly to her campaign
messages, endlessly repeating the same slogans and appearing
mostly at tightly controlled events - prompting many in the
media to deride her as an uninspiring "Maybot".
Meanwhile, veteran left-winger Corbyn, who was written off
as a no-hoper by most political analysts, surprised on the
upside with a policy-rich campaign that drew large, fervent
crowds to his events - although sceptics say his appeal in the
broader electorate is limited.
He proposes building a fairer society through policies such
as raising taxes for the richest 5 percent, scrapping university
tuition fees and investing 250 billion pounds ($315 billion) in
infrastructure - plans which the Conservatives say are fiscally
"Labour’s campaign has already changed the face of British
politics," Corbyn said in a final campaign rally.
"As we prepare for government, we have already changed the
debate and given people hope. Hope that it doesn’t have to be
like this, that inequality can be tackled, that austerity can be
ended, that you can stand up to the elites and the cynics."
There was only one point of agreement between May and
Corbyn, which was that the strongest signal that Britons could
send to show they were not cowed by the recent spate of attacks
would be to go out and vote.
(1 UK pound = $1.26)
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)