Tomorrow, the people of the United Kingdom (UK) will go to the polls to elect a new government. Few people saw the UK general election preponed by three years – but a lot of British politics has become unpredictable in recent months.
Currently in power is the Conservative Party, which holds a majority of 12 seats in the House of Commons. Theresa May has led the UK as Prime Minister since July 2016, which was when former PM David Cameron resigned following the EU membership referendum – or the Brexit referendum.
The last UK general election was in 2015: as such, the next election was not due until 2020. However, in a major and unprecedented U-turn, PM May announced a snap election in April. The announcement happened a few days after the UK invoked Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, thereby kick-starting the long and tedious process of Britain leaving the EU. During the announcement of the snap election, May stated that she wanted a strong mandate to deal with EU bureaucrats in Brussels so that she could get the best deal for Britain.
After her proposal got the required two-thirds majority in the House of Commons, the 2017 general election was confirmed. It will take place on 8 June 2017 and will involve all 650 parliamentary constituencies in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Who are contesting?
Broadly speaking, the main parties contesting in the election are the Conservative Party (led by Theresa May) and the Labour Party (led by Jeremy Corbyn).
Other main parties include the Liberal Democrats (led by Tim Farron) and the Scottish National Party (led by Nicola Sturgeon).
Candidates have campaigned extensively to garner public support. However, the customary debate between the main candidates for Prime Minister was disrupted this year when Theresa May refused to take part in the debate.
What are the main issues?
The biggest debate of the 2017 UK general election is undoubtedly Brexit. Last year, the UK voted to leave the EU and began the process of cutting ties with the EU in March 2017 when it invoked Article 50 and endorsed a “hard Brexit”. This is completely uncharted territory, and the process will involve months of heavy negotiating. The UK is eager to secure a deal that is most beneficial for the British public while EU leaders understandably see no reason to be lenient with the process.
Therefore, the next UK government will be tasked with hectic negotiations with European leaders, who, until a few weeks ago, were threatened by a rising tide of Euroscepticism. But this far-right surge was effectively halted by the victory of pro-EU parties in the Netherlands and France.
But Brexit is not the only issue concerning the British electorate. Debates around social security, healthcare, immigration, Scottish independence, and internet security – among others – are of great significance. Additionally, ideas on how terrorism can be curbed have featured heavily on the campaign trail, what with two major terror attacks (both claimed by the Islamic State) in Manchester and London taking place on 22 May and 3 June respectively.
British politics has become increasingly polarised since the Brexit vote, but the polarisation began way before the referendum was even announced. This was personified by the rise of coalition politics (the Conservatives won a narrow majority in the 2015 general election; they governed since 2010 as the head of a delicate coalition). The polarisation was also personified by the rise of fringe parties like the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which capitalised on a weak economy to raise fears over immigration and animosity against the European Union. While parties like UKIP have become weaker since the UK voted to leave the EU, they still remain a force to reckon with.
When the election was announced, opinion polls had the Conservatives enjoying a massive lead. However, in recent weeks the gap has greatly narrowed, putting Corbyn and May virtually neck-to-neck in a close race.
If no party wins a majority on 8 June, the weary process of coalition-building will commence. This will be interesting to follow, given the stark differences between the major parties. But a coalition that emerges from these negotiations will be frail and should this happen the UK will find it near-impossible to put up a coherent stand in Brussels during the Brexit negotiations.
Either way, Theresa May’s hope for a strong mandate and a large Conservative majority seems to have evaporated due to a swift surge in Labour’s popularity. While the Conservative Party is expected to win on Thursday, they are slated to be dissatisfied with the results nonetheless – they will have to deal with a slim majority, a smaller majority, or the limitations of coalition politics.