British PM Theresa May called for a general election: What you need to know
The UK looks set to have a general election on 8 June. Here’s what you need to know.
What has happened?
The UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that she wants to hold a general election on 8 June – three years earlier than scheduled.
What is a general election?
A general election is how the British public decides who they want to represent them in Parliament, and ultimately run the country. Everyone who is eligible – and registered – gets to vote for one candidate to represent their local area – which is known in Parliament as a constituency.
The candidates standing for election are usually drawn from political parties, but can also stand as independents. The person with the most votes in a constituency is elected as its MP, to represent their constituency in the House of Commons.
The leader of the political party with the most MPs after the election is expected to be asked by the Queen to become prime minister and form a government to run the country. The leader of the political party with the second highest number of MPs normally becomes leader of the Opposition.
Who is allowed to vote?
Basically, if you’re aged 18 or over on election day, registered to vote and a British citizen you can vote. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident in the UK and citizens of qualifying Commonwealth states resident in the UK can also vote if they are over 18 and registered to vote.
What if I live abroad?
British citizens living abroad can register to vote online as an ‘Overseas Voter’ if they have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years.
How do I register to vote?
To vote in a general election you must be registered to vote. Registration is open throughout the year, although there will be a deadline for registering to vote at this general election once the date has officially been confirmed by Parliament.
Voters can check if they are already registered by contacting their local electoral registration office using the Electoral Commission’s website.
People in England, Wales and Scotland can register to vote online, or download the forms to register by post, from the government’s website. Voters in Northern Ireland use a different form that is returned to their local Area Electoral Office.
When is the deadline to register to vote?
Assuming you are eligible, you can register any time but, be aware, there will be a deadline. The deadline to register for the last general election was 12 working days before people went to the polls. Assuming we follow the same timetable this time around, the deadline would be 22 May.
You can even get yourself on the register if you are 16 or 17 but you will have to have turned 18 before 8 June to actually be eligible to vote.
What is a ‘snap election’?
British prime ministers used to be free to hold a general election whenever they felt like it – but new laws passed by Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron changed that.
Under the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a general election is supposed to take place every five years on the first Thursday in May. As the most recent general election was in 2015, the next one was scheduled for May 2020.
But an election can be called ahead of schedule for two reasons – if there is a vote of no confidence in the current government, or if MPs vote for an early election by a two thirds majority.
Theresa May has chosen the second option, which would require MPs from her political party – the Conservatives – and also some MPs from opposition party Labour to vote in favour of having the election earlier than that, in this case 8 June, 2017.
What are the key dates?
There will be a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday to approve the election plan. If, as expected, it is approved Parliament will probably break up on 3 May to allow just over a month of full-pelt campaigning ahead of an election on Thursday, 8 June.
What does this mean for Brexit?
Britain is still on course to officially leave the European Union on Friday, 29 March, 2019.
Negotiations with other EU nations are not due to start until June meaning the election will probably be over and a new government in place before any serious talking gets under way in Brussels.
The Conservative Party says this is a “one-off chance to hold an election while the European Union agrees its negotiating position”. If Theresa May wins by a big margin in the UK she will see it as a vote of confidence in her strategy for leaving the EU.
But if her slender House of Commons majority is cut further or she loses the election – with anti-Brexit parties such as the Liberal Democrats getting many more MPs – then the UK’s current Brexit strategy will be up for grabs.
How do the parties stand in the polls?
The average of five opinion polls published in April puts the Conservatives on a little under 43% compared to a little over 25% for Labour – a lead of more than 17%. This would translate into a comfortable win for Mrs May’s party at an election if that’s how people voted.
Aren’t the polls always wrong?
The opinion polls were wrong about the 2015 general election and the industry has yet to fully fix the problems that caused those inaccuracies. So they should be taken with a pinch of salt. But the gap between Labour and the Conservatives in the polls leading up to the 2015 election was between 0% and 6%. The Conservatives have a much bigger lead than that now.
How would that translate into seats?
It’s not a straightforward process to work it out. Many Labour MPs have “safe” seats – they got thousands more votes than their nearest rivals in 2015, meaning they could lose votes and still retain their place in the Commons. The Conservatives have fewer “safe” seats than Labour. They pulled off their surprise 2015 general election victory by winning seats just where they needed them, such as in Liberal Democrat-held constituencies in the South West of England.
The danger for Labour is that they pile up votes in seats they already hold – something that happened in 2015 – rather than in areas represented by rival parties. This makes it harder for them to suffer large-scale losses, but it also makes it harder for them to get big gains.
Is that why Theresa May called the election?
Theresa May’s official reason for holding an election is to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. She claims Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems will try destabilise and frustrate the process in Parliament.
But it is not that unusual for prime ministers who have tiny Commons majorities to hold an election to tighten their grip on power. As things stand, it does not take many Conservative backbenchers – MPs who are not part of the government – to decide they don’t like something the government is doing to get it derailed.
Mrs May is also tied to the plans set out by her predecessor David Cameron at the 2015 general election. She has made a few changes – such as backing grammar schools and easing plans to pay off the deficit – but an election gives her the chance to set out her own vision for Britain.
Are any MPs standing down?
Two of the best known names in British politics, Labour’s Alan Johnson, and Conservative Ken Clarke have both said they will be retiring on 8 June. Mr Clarke is the longest serving MP at Westminster, having first been elected in 1970.
Other MPs standing down include:
Tom Blenkinsop – Labour
Jim Fitzpatrick – Labour
Oliver Letwin – Conservative
Pat Glass – Labour
Simon Burns – Conservative
Ronnie Campbell – Labour
Elections are also an opportunity for former MPs to get back in the Commons. Former Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable has said he plans to stand in the Twickenham seat he lost at the 2015 general election.
How do the parties currently stand?
The Conservatives have 330 seats, Labour 229, the SNP 54, the Lib Dems nine and Plaid Cymru three. The Green Party has one MP. UKIP have no MPs after their sole representative left the party and became an independent. For Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party have eight MPs, Sinn Fein, who don’t take up their seats, four, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) three and the Ulster Unionist Party two. Five MPs sit as independents.
What does Labour say about the early election?
Leader Jeremy Corbyn has welcomed Mrs May’s announcement. He says it is a “chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first”.
What about the Scottish National Party?
SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has described Theresa May’s plans for a general election as a “huge political miscalculation” and said she would make “Scotland’s voice heard” in opposition to more cuts and the most extreme form of Brexit she claims Mrs May is seeking.
Where do the Lib Dems stand?
Leader Tim Farron says his party will be putting the UK’s membership of the EU single market “front and centre” of their general election campaign, and campaigning to “avoid a disastrous hard Brexit”.