UK election 2017: the guide

UK election 2017: the guide

I moved from England to Ireland last year. This year, people have been asking me lots of questions about the UK election. I have appointed myself as an authority on the subject.

I created this page to answer all the questions I've been getting.


Update 12:00

Well that's that! No-body's a winner, but Theresa May's Conservatives - despite getting the most seats - have performed much worse than they should have done, and the backstabbing is going to begin.

The DUP, an ultra-Conservative political party in Northern Ireland won 10 seats and have implied that they will support Theresa May. However, it's not a formal coalition. Instead Theresa May's Conservatives are staying in government despite not winning the required number of seats, which may cause problems when votes are held.

The youth turn out is up from 43% in 2015 to 72%. Conservatives are blaming Theresa May for the very poor performance. Others have said it was a revolt against the aggressively anti-Labour media, who have not lightened their stance.

With a weak government and Brexit negotiations beginning in just 10 days, rumours are another general election is on the way.

UKIP have been virtually wiped out and Paul Nuttall has resigned. Nigel Farage - seen as the heart and soul of UKIP - has implied he'll be back because he worries Brexit may be weakened. Firstly because the vote shows two fingers to Theresa May's plans for a far-right party and a hard Brexit. But also the DUP - being elected in Northern Ireland - depends on a good relationship with Ireland and may hold this against May.

In Scotland, the Scottish National Party have lost many seats, with Conservatives doing surprisingly well. However, the SNP are still the largest party and may be suffering after pushing for a second independence referendum.

Don't forget that last year Labour party members were trying to oust the supposedly unelectable Corbyn from his position. For me, the important question is how well would Labour have done if everybody had supported him from the start? It'll be important if there's another election.

Theresa May appears to be following David Cameron in taking a gamble in how people will vote, and it's not done her or the country any good.

Update 05:40

It's still the same. Conservatives doing well in Scotland, Labour doing well in England. Neither are doing well enough to win.

Conservatives are clearly going to be the largest party, but as they were larger before this all started, they have only 'lost'. This is putting Theresa May's position in to question.

Surprising results include Canterbury (Labour gain), Stoke-on-Trent south (Conservative gain), Gordon (SNP loss) and Sheffield Hallam (Nick Clegg/Lib Dem loss to Labour). However, the pattern is not clear enough.

Turn out tends to be high especially among younger voters.

Update 03:00

In England, Labour are doing pretty well. In Scotland, the Conservatives are doing really well. Currently Labour are the net beneficiary but it's not set to be enough.

With support from the Northern Irish or even Scottish parties, the Conservatives could still win.

Update 01:40

Just as I said that, Labour have gained a Welsh seat from the Conservatives, and very nearly had an impressive gain in Putney.

Update 02:00

Labour takes Battersea from the Conservatives. This is huge news - but there haven't been enough big victories to make great news.

Update 01:30

Still neither party have won any seats they weren't expected to, but Labour have come close to it and the Conservatives haven't.

Nick Clegg's Sheffield seat sounds like it'll be sacrificed for a Labour victory, which will be the first high-profile casualty.

Update 00:10

It's too close to say anything. The exit poll predicted it would be a hung parliament; good for Labour and awful for the Conservatives.

Of the five seats declared so far, UKIP's vote has collapsed, and the turn-out has increased. Both Labour and the Conservatives have profited from this; it's too early to say who has profited more.

Background information is further down.

When will we know what result is looking likely?

UK elections are counted fast. At 10pm there will be an exit poll, which can be slightly off. By 10:40 you'll have the first result, which will give a clue. By 2am, the most important regions will be counted:

Swindon South, Battersea, Nuneaton: These are Conservative marginals. If the Conservatives win, we are on course for a close result, as predicted. If Labour win, they are going to put in a good result nationwide.

Tooting, Darlington, Wrexham: These are Labour marginals. If Labour win, we are on course for a close result, as predicted. If the Conservatives win, you can assume they've won nationally with a landslide.

What are the latest predictions?

Polls have been all over the place, predicting wildly different outcomes, and everybody speaks highly of the ones they agree with. The average indicates a Conservative win, and an increase on their previous result.

What is a snap general election?

In the UK elections should be held every five years. Our last one was in May 2015 and our next one should have been in May 2020. The rule was only introduced in 2011, and included a clause that a Prime Minister can hold an election early, if two-thirds of elected MPs support them.

This is the first time that has happened since the new law was introduced.

Why does Theresa May want an election now?

In the run-up to the election being announced, the media were frequently reporting that her party were much more popular than her competition - I'll come to them in a minute. If you believe politics is a game, this means now is an extremely clever time to call an election. Here's why:

  1. She needs a greater majority: In the 2015 election, David Cameron's Conservatives won 330 out of 650 seats. This means a significant portion of Parliament are not part of the government, and may object to their decisions in principle.

    Theresa May has inherited this, and she needs to get some difficult decisions made as part of the Brexit process. She thinks she has an opportunity to increase the Conservatives' seats, so she's going for it.

  2. It buys Brexit time: Whether you think Brexit is good for the UK or not, most people agree it won't happen without some pain. That pain was likely to be at its worst in 2019, and fresh in the minds of the public when the scheduled election happened.

    If Theresa May wins this snap election - and she believes she will - then she won't have to hold another one until 2022, and she hopes the pain will be over by then.

  3. She wants vindication: It's common in the UK for a Prime Minister to step down and hand over to someone else. When they do, there are always complaints that the new Prime Minister wasn't voted for.

    For Theresa May, she was supposed to win a vote amongst Conservative members, but she was the only one who stood, so she's had no vote at all. If she can win an election, she will silence her critics.

  4. It creates election fatigue: Governments often go through tough patches (I'm ignoring Brexit here), and when they do people usually beg for an election. By holding one now, people won't complain for the next few months - they'll be fed up of elections!

Who are the parties?

The main parties, and their current position, is as follows:

  • Conservatives Led by Theresa May, currently in government. The opinion polls have had them far ahead for a year, mostly because Theresa May has moved the party further to the right and in doing so has taken away votes from UKIP.

    The Conservatives regard themselves as the best at running the economy, and their critics regard them as a party for the rich - although their pro-Brexit agenda has moved them in to working class territories.

    As Theresa May's leadership style has been given more coverage over the last few weeks, support for the Conservatives has plummeted, but many are still predicting an easy win.

  • Labour Led by Jeremy Corbyn. Tony Blair last won an election for Labour by moving the party to the right. After that they coughed and spluttered their way out of power.

    Jeremy Corbyn was elected (twice) thanks to an impressive campaign by the far-left. His presence has divided traditional voters who believe his policies will never win an election.

    Corbyn has a core of aggressively-proud supporters. However, the party's approval ratings among the public have been extremely low. His fans blame this on biased media coverage, while his critics claim he has allowed Theresa May to get away with some outrageous decisions and disasters. In my opinion his flaw is that he has too many morals, whereas other party leaders will shamelessly manipulate the media, Corbyn prefers to give thoughtful and considered answers.

    Labour support used to be found in working-class towns, but Corbyn is more popular with university students. During the campaign, he has gained an impressive amount of traction, and has gone from an outsider to a serious contender.

  • Liberal Democrats Traditionally regarded as the "middle ground", they usually come third in elections. Current leader Tim Farron is making the party the anti-Brexit party, which has seen a massive surge in support, but this may not translate in to votes.

    Lib Dem support used to be found around universities and some rural areas, but these are under attack from Labour and Conservatives. Despite many people supporting them when the election was announced, the latest polls suggest the Lib Dems will be losing out again as people back the main two.

  • Green Party The traditional far-left party, led by Caroline Lucas. Their support is always strongest in Brighton (nicknamed "The People's Republic of Brighton", it is their only seat and it's weirdly in the middle of strong Conservative territory), but they are now going for disillusioned Labour voters.

    Their ideas are usually met with approval, but people prefer to vote for more experienced parties.

  • UKIP UKIP currently have no elected MPs (they had one in 2015 but he stood down). Their chances are usually over-rated because they receive a lot of media attention, as their members give good interviews.

    They are a far-right anti-EU party, but many people feel they've done their job and the Conservatives have got many of their policies covered.

    Their new leader, Paul Nuttall, has had a difficult ride after he made outlandish claims such as being former football player and a survivor of the Hillsborough Disaster, which proved to be untrue.

    The party joins the others in attacking Theresa May, but for different reasons: they are the only ones who think she won't go far enough.

  • The regional parties. Wales has Plaid Cymru, Scotland has the SNP and Northern Ireland has a whole host of crazy names who Irish ears will be fed up of hearing about since they've only just had an election.

    The SNP are the important ones here. They want an independent Scotland, and have MPs in the vast majority of the country. They held a referendum and lost, and now want another one.

    Because of this, voters in rural Scotland were expected to move from the SNP to the Conservatives, but this now sounds less likely.

Who is going to win?

All the polls were putting Theresa May's Conservatives far ahead, and are saying the other parties will need to make record-breaking swings in order to win.

Surprise results are not unheard of, they happened in 1992 and in 1970. However, this time it's so extreme most people who don't support Theresa May are simply hoping that she'll do no better this time.

The problem for people who don't like Theresa May is they are likely to vote for either Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP or Green. If everybody agreed on one party then that party would probably win, but instead everybody has their own opinions and the vote will be split between the four of them.

Secondly, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party all have a much younger support base, compared to UKIP and the Conservatives. Young people, as we know, are much less likely to go out and vote.

The UK uses the first past the post voting system. This means everybody votes in their local constituency, and the winner is the one who gets the most constituencies: not the one with the most votes overall. This has always been a stumbling block for the Lib Dems, who have a small amount of support spread across the country.

Update. The opinion polls have been producing a wide variety of results, but it is very clear that the gap between Conservatives and Labour has narrowed, with some predicting it will be very close. It all depends on who can get their voters out on the day.

What will people vote on?

Unsurprisingly, Brexit was going to be high on the agenda, although it now looks like many voters are fed up of it. Most people are accepting it will happen - the debate now is about who will get the best results.

The election is going to be all about personalities. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are both names that can divide a room. The winner will be the one with the most fans.

This is a shame because the UK political structure isn't supposed to work like this. Each person will be voting for their local representative, with that person's political affiliation contributing to the structure of Parliament and therefore deciding Prime Minister. Inevitably (and understandably), people will only look at the logo on the paper and wonder whether it meets their existing prejudices.

What is the campaign like?

I wouldn't accuse Theresa May of being complacent, but she clearly knew the odds were in her favour so she didn't need to pull any party tricks.

As a result, she is holding a very safe campaign, revealing very little about her plans, shying away from the cameras at every opportunity and only attending events which are heavily stage-managed.

Theresa May also has the security of having the UK's two largest newspapers, The Sun and The Daily Mail, on her side (being friendly with the editors of both), who have been producing some dubious coverage in her favour (The Sun edited a photo to make it look like Corbyn was dancing at a memorial service and The Daily Mail criticised Labour's support for energy price caps and praised Theresa for the same policy).

Where Corbyn has support he has it strong, and universities in particular seem to be on his side. With the media giving him more airtime, he does seem to have performed well, even if he reveals his inexperience. Meanwhile May is clearly experienced, but struggles the moment she has to put the script down.

The Lib Dems saw a huge surge in support but this hasn't amounted to much and is unlikely to see an increase in votes. There are a lot of people who will vote for "anyone but her", meaning they need to decide between Labour and Lib Dem - and Labour appears to be getting that vote.

Aren't elections boring?

The Monster Raving Loony Party stole Cameron's limelight in the 2015 election.

Depending on where you live in the UK, this may be your fifth election/referendum in five years. Mix that in with the fact there's been nothing but politics in the news for the last eight months and you can see why people are fed up.

But don't worry, we'll put that aside on the day. There is no country in the world better at hosting an election than the UK. Here's what you have to look forward to:

  • The Monster Raving Loony Party are a registered political party who are in it for the comedy. On election night, they mostly walk around wearing ridiculous hats, trying to take all the limelight. Look them up.

  • The hashtag #DogsAtPollingStations will go viral as people share pictures of their political puppers.

  • Sunderland South has a history of being the first to count all their votes, and in 2015 they involved hundreds of local school children, who had to rehearse carrying the boxes, to allow them to get the results announced in a record-breaking 48 minutes. Other constituencies want the title but Sunderland will make sure they win again.

    Irish elections can take days to count all the results. Here, you can get an idea how things are going before you've even got home.

  • Tiredness is worse than drunkenness. Now imagine lots of politicians who haven't slept for hours, being interviewed about a stressful evening by TV presenters who are being told to fill for time. The result is that both people end up speaking a whole load of nonsense.

    David Dimbleby, who is 78, will be presenting the results again this year. In 2010 (the year it was too close to call), he hosted the show for an amazing 18 hours.

    If like me you're a bit sad and watch the whole event live, you'll be extremely tired too, which adds an extra layer of confusion to the whole charade.

  • People lose their jobs - live. Politics is such a cruel world, but when you get to watch somebody you hate find out they've been voted out live on TV, suddenly it all seems OK. The phrase "were you up for Portillo?" as its own Wikipedia page, after one particular late-night shock.

    Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are both standing for election, but in safe seats.

  • The BBC excel themselves. Every election sees billions of pounds be spent on ridiculous graphics and metaphors. Usually, we get a 3D-green screen with Jeremy Vine walking across a map of the UK, while all sorts of crazy things happen to it to represent different outcomes. The cowboys and fake accents will always be my favourite. You can tell the guys in charge of this only get work once every five years.

  • The polling stations. Most of them are schools and village halls, but there are also caravans, church graveyards and one couple's house in Pica.

  • One of the candidates standing against Tim Farron is going to be called Mr Fish Finger, and he will be dressed as a fish finger.

  • You learn about places you've never heard of before. Look for the presenter's face when the results for Dwyfor Meirionnydd come in. I'd put money on them voting for the Welsh national party.

Tedious about the author bit

I love music, media, news, travelling, old TV shows, lists, driving, trains, planes. Have a fear of boats. Humour is weak at best.

I present radio, I write, I'll be whoever you want to be. I'm not wearing that.

Legally bland

Any similarities with real-life events or wealthy international firms is probably coincidental. No products endorsed. I'm powered by Monster Munch.

© 2019 Johnathan Randall.