This blog post is definitely a little bit late, given that Theresa May announced the general election on Tuesday (18th May) but it’s taken me a little bit of time to catch up with all the coverage. Having a full time job doesn’t half get in the way of me being a politics nerd!
I know that politics can be confusing at the best of times, so I wanted to try and write a sort of guide to it for anyone who might be interested, but maybe not know where to start – I know a lot of people for who it’ll be their first general election too. As a disclaimer, I’m not a politician, and I’ve never formally studied politics. I’m just someone with a big interest in how our country is run, who spends a lot of time on the Guardian politics session, and in the interests of full disclosure, I’m a member of the Labour party and a huge Jeremy Corbyn supporter.
So, what is a general election? How does it work?
A general election is the process through which the United Kingdom votes for it’s government. This is how it works: The UK is split up into 650 areas called constituencies; you can see which is your constituency here. Each constituency votes for an MP (That stands for Member of Parliament). MP’s are usually a member of a political party (Like Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservatives or the Green Party) although they can stand as an Independent.
When all the constituencies have voted and elected their MP’s, if one political party has more than 325 seats, they have control of the Parliament and become the ruling party. The leader of their party becomes the Prime Minister. The party with the second largest amount of MP’s becomes the Opposition.
If no one party gets those 325 seats, a party with a large number of MP’s can make a partnership with a party with a smaller number of MP’s to create a joint group of 325 MP’s – this joint group can then become the ruling party and is known as a coalition government.
Why are we having one now?
We aren’t meant to have a general election until 2020 – the last one was in 2015 and they’re usually every 5 years. But, Theresa May has used a piece of legislation called the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which lets the Prime Minister call a general election early if two thirds of MP’s vote in agreement with it, to call a vote. Most MP’s voted for the election, so we’re having one!
Why is it a big deal that Theresa May called one early?
Because she is essentially giving up power after two years instead of five – although opinion polls which have been taken show that the Tories have a good chance of winning, it’s by no means certain. The Tories could end up out of power, essentially through their own choice. It’s also a big deal because throughout her time as PM (less than a year mind) she’s said loads of times that she absolutely wouldn’t call a general election – the fact she’s seen as a truthful, trustworthy person is key to her public persona, so the fact she’d 180’d on something shes said so often is a risky move as it could make people think she’s less trustworthy.
If she might end up being sacked as PM if she looses the election, why would she do it?
Basically because of Brexit. None of the other political parties (Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party etc) agree with how the Tories and Theresa May are planning to pull Brexit off – Theresa Mays plan is to call an election, win it and then use that win to silence the other parties.
Who will win?
According to opinion polls, the Tories are about 20 points ahead of Labour, their closest competitor, so they have a good chance. (Another reason Theresa May chose to call an election now) However, nothing is certain – the Tories refusal to take Scotland wanting a second referendum seriously could bolster Scottish support for the SNP and Labour have recently announced lots of headline manifesto promises which could drum up much needed support – particularly things around education, and pensions for women.
Can I vote in the general election?
In order to vote in the general election you need to be:
- 18, or older, on the date you’ll vote
- living at an address in the UK
- a British, Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland citizen
- not legally disallowed from voting (for example if you were in prison, or had been otherwise convicted of fraudulent offences)
You also need to be registered on the Electoral Roll! If you’re not sure about this, you can check with your local authority if you’re on the Electoral Roll and registered to vote. (Find your local authority here) If you aren’t registered to vote DO IT! You can register here, and make sure you encourage your friends to register too!
You don’t need to be a member of a political party to vote! And you don’t need to know who you’re going to vote for to register – register ASAP and decide on your vote when you’re ready,
How do I know who to vote for?
This is a great question! There are a few ways to decide.
- You might choose based on the leader of the party, because they’ll become the Prime Minister if they win; if you do this you should be careful of how the media are portraying or twisting things!
- You might believe in the ideals of a party, even though policies can change – I believe in Labour, and them doing the best for our country, even if they may have a policy or two I don’t agree with
- You could make your decision based on policies. In the upcoming weeks, each political party will publish a manifesto, which will be available on their websites. This outlines what they would do in Government and where they stand on different issues.
- If reading through manifestos isn’t your thing you can visit this site or this site. They let you choose the areas that are important to you, and where you stand on them and tell you which party you are most closely aligned with.
- You could base your vote on your local MP, as they’re the person you actually vote for. Each current MP and the others who run for the seat will have websites, giving their stance on topics that you can visit. Local newspapers will often have interviews with them in the run up to the general election, and there might be public debates you can go along to in local community centers or universities. If you’re interested in voting for someone who is a current MP, or who has been an MP in the past, you can check their voting record, to see if they vote in a way you agree with.
- You might want to vote in a tactical way. For example, a lot of people who have been hurt by Tory cuts, the Bedroom Tax, or increased tuition fees, want to vote to get the Tories out – this is a website they’ve set up to allow people to vote tactically to achieve that.
How do I vote?
If you’re registered to vote, before the election you’ll receive a polling card with information about where your polling station (the place you’ll go to vote) is. It’s usually a Church, school or community center, local to where you live. If you don’t receive a polling card, or you’ve lost it, you can call your local council to check where your polling station is. If you have to do that because you haven’t got a polling card, make sure you check that you’re registered to vote!
On the day of the general election (June 8th) you should go to the polling station (They’re usually open between 7am and 9, or 10pm). There will be a reception desk where you give your name and address and they’ll give you your voting slip. You take the voting slip over to a voting booth (somewhere you have privacy to make your vote) and make your vote! You usually do this by putting an ‘X’ in the box next to the candidate you’re voting for, but there will be instructions on the sheet. Be careful to follow them – doing it wrong means you’ve spoilt your ballot and your vote won’t count. If you need help, there will be people available to support you!
After you have filled in your voting slip, there will be a box for you to paut it in. Fold it up, pop it in the box and hey presto, you’ve voted!
What happens after we vote?
After polling stations close, around 10pm, voting slips, in their sealed boxes are taken to counting stations (1 per constituency) and votes are tallied up. Results start to come in from 11/11.30pm but how long results (and there are 650 results to get) take depends on how many people in a constituency, as well as how many of those people voted. Usually around 3am or so you have a good idea of which party has a majority (if any) but it can vary…by around lunchtime the next day you tend to know who’ll be in power though.
I hope that was a little bit helpful – if you have any other questions please comment them below or tweet me on @quesarahsarahx! As parties release their manifestos, I’m also planning on doing a Dummies Guide to each of them, so keep an eye out for those too :) Thanks for reading!