A Dummies Guide to Britain’s General Election 2015
- Michel'le Donnelly
It’s just two weeks before the UK goes to the polls to vote in the 2015 general election. I think its fair to say that a little breakdown of what the election looks like is in order.
May 7th 2015 and under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, general elections in Britain must take place in May once every five years.
You might think this is a silly question but seriously, there are lots of people who don’t know how a general election works, so no judgment here. The elections are made up of 650 individual elections that take place on a single day, across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You must be registered, 18 years old or over on polling day and a British citizen to vote.
If you’ve still got more questions, watch this.
On May 7th registered voters will go down to their local voting station and cast their ballot. The electoral system in the UK is first-past-the-post and is used to vote in MPs to the House of Commons. Under first-past-the-post, the UK is divided into numerous voting areas (i.e. constituencies or wards). Voters put a cross (X) next to their preferred candidate on a ballot paper. Ballot papers are then counted and the candidate that has received the most votes in that constituency wins the seat. Some have said this system is disproportional and leads to some constituent’s with an MP that they did not vote for. In 2011 there was a referendum on whether or not to change the FPTP system to something more representative. However FPTP was still seen to be the most favorable. The winning party must win an outright majority of 326 seats in the House of Commons to form a government. In 2010, Britain experienced it’s first hung parliament since 1974. The Conservatives won the most seats with 306, Labour won 258 and the Liberal Democrats got 57. With no party winning an outright majority, the Tories entered into an agreement with the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition government.
Britain’s Westminster parliamentary system has favoured a two-party system for many years. However, the rise of the Liberal Democrats in 2010 saw a three-party system emerge. Since then we’ve seen the rise of the SNP (Scottish National Party) in Scotland and the rise of UKIP and the Greens which led to a seven-way debate between party leaders. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon recently said that the seven-way televised debate with all the party leaders illustrated that “two-party politics at Westminster is over”.
The Conservatives – Leader: David Cameron
The Conservatives (also known as the Tories) claim to be the oldest political party in Europe. Seen to be sitting to the right of British politics, the Tories are often presented as the party of the upper class. Some of the Tories key policies include eliminating the deficit and holding an in-out referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Labour – Leader: Ed Miliband
Labour was seen to be in trouble in the 2010 election. After 13 years in power they didn’t do as badly as expected but they were unsuccessful in negotiating a coalition with the Lib Dems. Seen to be sitting to the left of British politics, Labour is presented as the party for the working class. Some of Labours policies include cutting tuition fees and eliminating zero-hour contracts.
The Liberal Democrats: Leader: Nick Clegg
The Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg were seen as the wonder party in 2010. Clegg’s popularity saw them serge ahead in polls and “Cleggmania” took over. Key policies include balancing the budget fairly and new laws to fight climate change.
The SNP- Leader: Nicola Sturgeon
The SNP were always the second major party in Scotland with Labour always having a majority on the Scottish Parliament. However, their rise in 2012, thanks to ex-leader Alex Salmond saw them win a majority government in 2011. One of their policies was to hold an –in-out referendum on the country about whether or not Scotland should be part of the United Kingdom. After a narrow loss, Salmond stood down and Nicola Sturgeon became leader. Only people in Scotland can vote for the SNP. Some of their policies include increasing the minimum wage and building more homes.
UKIP- Leader: Nigel Farage
The rise of Farage and UKIP represent the discontent many people feel with Westminster’s centralised politics and the major parties that are too often seen to be far too similar. UKIP key policies include immigration control and getting Britain out of the EU.
The Greens- Leader: Natalie Bennett
The rise of the Green Party can also be blamed on the centralisation of Westminster politics and the fact that many young people agree with the social issues that the party campaigns on. Key policies include scrapping university tuition fees and focusing on environmental issues.
For more on the party policies go here.
So, how’s it all going so far?
Since the official start of the election campaign on the 30th of March it seems Labour and the Tories are neck and neck in the polls. If you haven’t already seen the televised leaders debates I recommend that you do. Immediately. I think they did a sound job of allowing you to hear all the leaders and their party promises and it’s also a chance to see how they dealt with any challenges posed. It was also highly entertaining, there was a heckler and all the leaders were covered in sweat- a TV highlight for sure!
Current polling numbers:
It is important to note that the poll numbers you’ll see flying around are opinion poll numbers. The current opinion polls as of April 22nd are below. You can keep up to date with them here.
Lib Dems: 13.5%
And there you go, everything you need to know before heading to the polls on May 7th. The young persons vote is really going to make a difference in this election and I suggest everyone who is voting makes sure they are making a conscious effort to ensure that their vote is informed. All the party’s official manifestos are up online and can be read by all. So even though politics may be boring and some politicians sure can be hella untrustworthy, I say get some coffee, get a slice of cake and get reading- you only get this chance once every five years so make it count. Happy voting!