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UK Elections: What you need to know

Millions vote in an election that may upend 14 years of Conservative rule

In an important general election that came earlier than expected, British citizens and eligible residents would choose their leaders on July 4th. The election is being viewed as a referendum on 14 years of Conservative dominance by several political pundits.

The election pits incumbent Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the Conservative Party and Keir Starmer, the leader of the left-wing Labour Party. Labour is poised to win with a huge majority according to several opinion polls conducted prior to the elections. 

The elections involve voting for 650 Members of Parliament who would sit in the House of Commons through the first-past-the-post voting system or FPTP. British voters choose a single candidate to represent them in Parliament rather than a party or prime minister. The candidate who receives the most number of votes in their district wins the seat, and the party with the most seats has the opportunity to form a government. The prime minister is that party’s leader, who is also a member of Parliament. The term “first past the post” therefore refers to this method; it is a horse racing metaphor, with the post serving as the finish line. The message is straightforward: There is only one winner, regardless of who finishes in second place.

These 650 MPs represent 650 constituencies. This is not one single election but all 650 separate elections at once. To have a majority, the winning party must win 326 seats or more. This would allow them to form the government and have their party leader become the UK’s Prime Minister. The UK Prime Minister is the head of the government since the UK is a parliamentary monarchy.

Timelines

Elections officially start at 7 am and last until 10 pm when the polls close. There are currently 40,000 polling stations all over the UK and abroad. Reporting on voting and election issues is officially banned. 

After the polls close at 10 pm, all broadcasters combine their notes, and an exit poll is announced. An exit poll gauges how different parties have performed and who is likely to win a particular seat or if there is a re-run. In the UK, This poll has been generally accurate since 2005 and the final results don’t differ too much from the exit polls.

An hour after the polls have closed, results would start streaming in and winners announced. These are usually safe seats in stronghold constituencies and generally from the North East of England where Labour dominates.

After that, it becomes a flurry of activities as more early seats from strongholds continue to emerge. Some bellwether seats also start streaming in. Bellwether seats are used metaphorically to describe a section of a region where political inclinations are similar to those of a larger area in little ways, to the point where the outcome of an election in one region may foretell the outcome of an election in another. This goes on till the wee hours of the morning.

From early morning to morning, most seats are declared complete and winners are announced. At this stage, the winner is likely known to the public. By mid-morning, stragglers are declared, and the whole exercise is concluded.

By the next day at noon, the new PM may assume office if needed.

Parties involved.

There are several parties involved in this election. Each runs on a different political ideology and promise. Let’s review the major parties below.

  1. Conservative. (Centre right)
  • Known as Tories. Runs on a centre-right political ideology
  • Run on Low immigration, low taxes, NHS prioritization, and increased education funding platform
  • The current Leader and Prime Minister is Rishi Sunak
  • Incumbent party since 2019.
  1. Labour Party (Centre Left)
  • Known for their signature red rose and red colour
  • Runs on increasing energy consumption, wealth creation, and sustainable immigration platforms.
  • The current Leader and contender for the Prime Minister’s seat is Keir Starmer
  • Opposition party since 2019
  1. Liberal Democrats (Centrists-to-Leftist)
  • Known as LibDems. The fourth largest party in the UK
  • Runs on a low tax, increased immigration, and increased health spending platform
  • The current leader and contender for the Prime Minister’s seat is Ed Davey.
  • Has been considered the “third party” for a long time.
  1. Greens (Green)
  • Known for their signature green colour. Runs on a green platform.
  • Their policies include reducing oil usage and investing in green technologies to combat climate change.
  • The current leader and contender for the Prime Minister’s seat is Adrian Ramsay
  • Got one seat in their last election
  1. SNP (Scottish Nationalism)
  • The third largest party in the UK. Known for progressive social policies.
  • Their major policies are Scottish independence, progressive social policies, and civic nationalism.
  • The current leader is John Swinney.
  • They are in favour of rejoining the European Union which the UK left in the Brexit movement.
  1. Reform UK (Far Right)
  • Far-right party headed by the Brexit honcho and right-wing personality, Nigel Farage.
  • Started as the Brexit Party and runs on extremely low immigration, low taxation, and net zero platform. Right-wing populist.
  • The current leader and contender for the Prime Minister’s seat is Nigel Farage.
  • Promises to be the next “big thing” in UK politics.

There are also other small parties but they don’t have the huge reach that the above parties have. This includes the Workers Party of Britain led by far-right candidate George Galloway, DUP or Democratic Unionist Party which is based mainly in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein which is mainly in the Republic of Ireland, Plaid Cymru which is based mainly in Wales, SDLP or Social Democratic and Labour Party which is mainly in Northern Ireland, Alba Party which is mainly in Scotland and Alliance Party of Northern Ireland which is based in Northern Ireland. Running as an independent candidate is also allowed. No independent candidate won a seat in the last general election which was held in 2019.

Where to watch the results

The results are available on state-funded BBC and Sky News as soon as they are posted. Major media houses and papers are also covering the elections and you can follow them to see the results as they come in and also the final results.

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Steve Williams
Steve Williams
Steve Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter, with a focus on narrative non-fiction stories about current affairs