UK ELECTIONS 2017: USEFUL FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has called a general election on 8 June – three years earlier than scheduled.

Why has Theresa May called an election?

Mrs May’s official reason for holding an election is to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. She claims Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems will try to destabilise and frustrate the process in Parliament.

But it is not that unusual for prime ministers who have tiny Commons majorities to hold an election to tighten their grip on power. As things stand, it does not take many Conservative backbenchers – MPs who are not part of the government – to decide they don’t like something the government is doing to get it derailed. Mrs May’s party has a big opinion poll lead over Labour so she will be hoping the election will see her getting a bigger majority in the House of Commons.

Mrs May is also tied to the promises made by the Conservatives at the 2015 election, when David Cameron was prime minister. She has made a few changes – such as backing grammar schools and easing plans to reduce the deficit – but an election gives her the chance to set out her own vision for Britain.

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How do the parties stand in the polls?

The average of five opinion polls published in April puts the Conservatives on a little under 43% compared with a little over 25% for Labour – a lead of more than 17%. This would translate into a comfortable win for Mrs May’s party at an election if that’s how people voted. The Liberal Democrats were on 10%, UKIP 11% and the Greens on 4%.

What is a general election?

A general election is how the British public decide who they want to represent them in Parliament, and ultimately run the country. Everyone who is eligible – and registered to vote (see below) – gets to vote for one candidate to represent their local area, which is known in Parliament as a constituency.

The candidates standing for election are usually drawn from political parties, but can also stand as independents. The person with the most votes in a constituency is elected as its MP, to represent that area in the House of Commons.

The leader of the political party with the most MPs after the election is expected to be asked by the Queen to become prime minister and form a government to run the country. The leader of the political party with the second highest number of MPs normally becomes leader of the opposition.

 

Who is allowed to vote?

Basically, if you’re aged 18 or over on election day, registered to vote and a British citizen you can vote. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident in the UK and citizens of qualifying Commonwealth states resident in the UK can also vote if they are over 18 and registered to vote.

 

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What if I live abroad?

British citizens living abroad can register online to vote as an “overseas voter” if they have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years.

How do I register to vote?

To vote in a general election you must be registered to vote. Registration is open throughout the year.

Voters can check if they are already registered by contacting their local electoral registration office using the Electoral Commission’s website.

People in England, Wales and Scotland can register to vote online, or download the forms to register by post, from the government’s website. Voters in Northern Ireland use a different form that is returned to their local Area Electoral Office.

When is the deadline to register to vote?

Assuming you are eligible, you can register any time but be aware that there will be a deadline. The deadline for registration is 22 May 2017. Anyone who misses the deadline won’t be able to vote.

You can even get yourself on the register if you are 16 or 17 but you will have to have turned 18 before 8 June to actually be eligible to vote.

If you registered for the EU Referendum, Northern Ireland Assembly elections in March 2017 or the upcoming local elections in May, and your details have not changed, you won’t need to register again.

What about students who live away from home?

Students may be registered at both their home address, and at a university or college address. It all depends whether you spend an equal amount of time at each and, ultimately, the electoral registration officer will decide whether or not someone can register at both. At the general election, it is an offence to vote more than once.

What should I do if I’ve moved house?

Anyone who has moved since they last voted, must register at their new address – paying council tax does not mean you are registered to vote. If you don’t re-register in time, you may be able to still vote at the address you originally registered at. If this is too far away, you can always vote by post or arrange a proxy vote.

What if I’m on holiday?

You can vote either by post or by proxy – which is where you appoint someone else to register your vote on your behalf. To do that you can download the form here. Whoever you nominate must be eligible to vote in the election themselves.

If you want to post it, you need to apply at least 11 working days before the election. You have to get your form to your local electoral registration office by 5pm on 23 May. Details of where to find your local registration office are on this site.

Why is this a ‘surprise’ or ‘snap’ election’?

British prime ministers used to be free to hold a general election whenever they felt like it – but new laws passed by Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron changed that.

Under the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a general election is supposed to take place every five years on the first Thursday in May. As the most recent general election was in 2015, the next one was scheduled for May 2020.

But an election can be called ahead of schedule for two reasons – if there is a vote of no confidence in the current government or if MPs vote for an early election by a two-thirds majority. Mrs May chose the second option, which was overwhelmingly backed by MPs, by 522 votes to 13.

How unusual is a ‘snap election’?

It depends how you define it, but if we’re talking about one that was called by a government with a majority in the Commons less than four years after the previous election, you have to go back to 1966 – in that case the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson wanted to increase the number of Labour MPs in Parliament and “a mandate to govern”.

In 1974 there were two elections eight months apart – but that was under different circumstances because no party won a majority in the Commons in the first one.

When will the general election after this one be held?

A 2017 general election means that the subsequent election is now due in 2022. That’s because the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which decrees that elections take place every five years, is still in force.

But an election could be held at any time if two-thirds of MPs vote for it, as they did this time. A future government could also decide to scrap the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

What are the key dates?

Parliament is expected to break up on 3 May to allow just over a month of full-pelt campaigning ahead of an election on Thursday, 8 June.

Are the local elections still going ahead?

Yes – voting will take place in 34 local council areas in England, all 32 councils in Scotland and all 22 councils in Wales on 4 May.

In addition, six areas in England are voting for newly-created “combined local authority mayors”.

The Manchester Gorton by-election, caused by the death of Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, had been due to take place on 4 May but will now be held at the same time as the general election on 8 June.

What does the general election mean for Brexit?

Britain is still on course to officially leave the European Union on Friday, 29 March 2019.

Negotiations with other EU nations are not due to start until June meaning the election will probably be over and a new government in place before any serious talking gets under way in Brussels.

The Conservative Party says this is a “one-off chance to hold an election while the European Union agrees its negotiating position”. If Mrs May wins by a big margin in the UK she will see it as a vote of confidence in her strategy for leaving the EU.

But if her slender House of Commons majority is cut further or she loses the election – with anti-Brexit parties such as the Liberal Democrats getting many more MPs – then the UK’s current Brexit strategy will be up for grabs.

Aren’t the polls always wrong?

The opinion polls were wrong about the 2015 general election and the industry has yet to fully fix the problems that caused those inaccuracies. So they should be taken with a pinch of salt. But the gap between Labour and the Conservatives in the polls leading up to the 2015 election was between 0% and 6%. The Conservatives have a much bigger lead than that now.

How would that translate into seats?

It’s not a straightforward process to work it out. Many Labour MPs have “safe” seats – they got thousands more votes than their nearest rivals in 2015, meaning they could lose votes and still retain their place in the Commons. The Conservatives have fewer “safe” seats than Labour. They pulled off their surprise 2015 general election victory by winning seats just where they needed them, such as in previously Liberal Democrat-held constituencies in the south-west of England.

The danger for Labour is that it piles up votes in seats it already holds – something that happened in 2015 – rather than in areas represented by rival parties. This makes it harder for it to suffer large-scale losses, but it also makes it relatively harder for it to get big gains.

Are there going to be any boundary changes in this election?

No. They were not due to be introduced until 2020. A public consultation is under way with final proposals set to made in 2018.

 

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When will the candidates be announced?

If you want to stand as a candidate in the general election you have until 11 May to submit an application to your local returning officer together with a £500 deposit.

The main parties are in a race against time to get candidates in place and some have streamlined their normal selection procedures, with more candidates being chosen centrally.

Labour, the Conservatives, the SNP and the Lib Dems all say they hope to have completed their selections within the next week. Smaller parties may take longer.

When will the manifestos be published?

None of the major UK political parties contacted by the BBC was able to provide a firm date for the publication of its manifesto at this stage. The Liberal Democrats expect to be able to set a date within the next couple of weeks, while the BBC understands that the Labour manifesto will be finalised in the second week of May.

Before the last general election, in 2015, the major parties launched their manifestos within days of each other in mid-April, approximately three weeks before the country went to the polls on 7 May. If a similar timetable were to be adopted this year, manifestos could be expected in mid-May ahead of the election on 8 June.

Are any MPs standing down?

The former chancellor George Osborne is standing down after 16 years, saying he is leaving Westminster “for now”. He is taking on the role of editor at the Evening Standard. Another well-known name in British politics, Labour’s Alan Johnson, will also be retiring. So far 12 Labour MPs, four Conservatives and one Lib Dem have confirmed they are standing down.

They include:

  • Andrew Tyrie – Conservative (Chichester)
  • Gisela Stuart – Labour (Birmingham Edgbaston)
  • Tom Blenkinsop – Labour (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland)
  • Iain Wright – Labour (Hartlepool)
  • Pat Glass – Labour (North West Durham)
  • Simon Burns – Conservative (Chelmsford)
  • John Pugh – Lib Dem (Southport)
  • Andrew Smith – Labour (Oxford East)
  • Sir Gerald Howarth – Conservative (Aldershot)
  • John Pugh – Liberal Democrat (Southport)

Elections are also an opportunity for former MPs to get back into the Commons. Former Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable has said he plans to stand in the Twickenham seat he lost at the 2015 general election.

How do the parties currently stand?

The Conservatives have 330 seats, Labour 229, the SNP 54, the Lib Dems nine and Plaid Cymru three. The Green Party has one MP. UKIP have no MPs after their sole representative left the party and became an independent. For Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party have eight MPs, Sinn Fein, who don’t take up their seats, four, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) three and the Ulster Unionist Party two. Five MPs sit as independents.

Chart showing numbers of seats held by four biggest parties in Parliament

What does Labour say about the early election?

Leader Jeremy Corbyn has welcomed Mrs May’s announcement. He says it is a “chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first”. He has warned against believing the result is a “foregone conclusion”.

What about the Scottish National Party?

SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has described Mrs May’s plans for a general election as a “huge political miscalculation” and said she would make “Scotland’s voice heard” in opposition to more cuts and the most extreme form of Brexit she claims Mrs May is seeking.

Where do the Lib Dems stand?

Leader Tim Farron says his party will be putting the UK’s membership of the EU single market “front and centre” of their general election campaign, and campaigning to “avoid a disastrous hard Brexit”.

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