LONDON — British voters will go to the polls again on December 12, to vote in the country’s third general election in five years.
Here’s POLITICO’s guide to what many say will be the most significant U.K. election in a generation.
Why is this election happening?
When Boris Johnson succeeded Theresa May as prime minister in July, he knew he would have to face the electorate soon.
Within days of taking office, his working majority in parliament was reduced to one as the Conservatives lost a by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire. He later lost it altogether when he expelled 21 of his MPs (though he later allowed 10 to rejoin).
It will be the first U.K. general election held in December since 1923.
The lack of a parliamentary majority prevented both May and Johnson from passing their Brexit deals through parliament. Johnson had been fruitlessly pressing for a snap poll for weeks, but on October 29 opposition parties backed a bill to trigger the national ballot on December 12.
It will be the first U.K. general election held in December since 1923.
How many seats are being contested?
There are 650 parliamentary constituencies in the U.K., each of which is represented by an MP. They are all up for election.
If all parties fall short of a majority, Britain has a hung parliament and deals must be done to form a government.
The vast majority of seats — 533 — are in England, while 59 are in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland.
By convention the major parties stand aside for the speaker of the House of Commons — currently Lindsay Hoyle, the MP for Chorley. That means the number of seats really in play is 649.
How does the British electoral system work?
U.K. elections use a “winner takes all” system called first-past-the-post. In each constituency, the candidate that receives the most votes of those cast wins the seat.
The leader of the party that wins at least half the 650 constituencies — the magic number is 326 — becomes prime minister. That party then governs the country alone.
If all parties fall short of a majority, Britain has a hung parliament and deals must be done to form a government. These can take the form of a coalition between two or more parties — like the one between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in 2010 — or a more informal confidence-and-supply agreement, like the one between the Conservatives and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party struck in 2017.
Another possibility is a minority government, where the largest party governs with the help of ad-hoc deals with opposition parties on specific policies. Given the political impasse over Brexit, a minority government after December 12 is unlikely to be very stable.
How many MPs are standing down?
More than 60 current MPs have so far declared that they will stand down, and the number is growing.
Those retiring include the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, longest continuously serving MP Ken Clarke, former Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith, Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey and Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson.
Who can vote?
All British and Irish citizens resident in the U.K. and over the age of 18 can vote. Citizens of the Commonwealth countries — including Australia, Canada, India and Kenya — who have the right to live in the U.K. are also eligible. U.K. citizens who have moved abroad can vote for 15 years after they have left the country.
The deadline for registering to vote is November 26 — and applications to vote by post must be received by the same day.
EU citizens cannot vote, except if they are nationals of Cyprus or Malta, which are in the Commonwealth. You can’t vote if you’re in prison, a member of the House of Lords or of the royal family.
What are the key dates in the run up to election day?
Parliament was dissolved on November 6, kicking off the campaign in earnest. The deadline for candidates who want to stand to put themselves forward is November 14. At this point, the process of printing voting ballots begins.
The deadline for registering to vote is November 26 — and applications to vote by post must be received by the same day. Those who want to vote by proxy for the first time must apply by December 4.
On polling day itself, December 12, people can cast their ballots between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
What are the key moments to watch out for in the campaign?
After the initial campaign skirmishes, the first main event will be the publication of the parties’ manifestos setting out their proposed programs for government.
In 2017, Labour’s manifesto was leaked before the party could release it, which ended up being a boon to the party as it got far greater coverage than it otherwise would have.
TV debates, the only place where the party leaders take each other on directly during the course of campaign, will also form a key part of the story. A head-to-head debate between Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Johnson will be screened on ITV on November 19, and more events on other channels are likely.
U.K. election campaigns are very unpredictable, and the key turning points — good or bad — are impossible to foresee. For Gordon Brown in 2010, it was him getting caught on mic calling a Labour supporter who challenged him over the economy and immigration a “bigoted woman.” For Theresa May in 2017, it was her U-turn over her social care policy — successfully branded by the opposition as a “dementia tax.”
When will we know the result?
We’ll have a clear picture of the result by breakfast time on Friday December 13. But a good idea of how the parties have fared and who is on course to win a majority will start to emerge earlier, as key bellwether seats declare around 1 or 2 a.m.
Each party can spend up to £30,000 for each constituency it is contesting in the election.
POLITICO will live blog the election action through the night.
The BBC exit poll, which has a strong track record of closely mirroring the actual result, is announced as soon as the polling stations close at 10 p.m.
What are the rules on election spending?
Each party can spend up to £30,000 for each constituency it is contesting in the election. Parties that are fielding candidates in all 650 seats can spend a maximum of £19.5 million in total. This covers all campaign spending including advertising — from posters and flyers to YouTube videos — organizing rallies and press conferences, and producing manifestos.
Parties must check where all donations of over £500 are coming from. Permissible donations must come from individuals on the U.K. electoral register or U.K.-based companies, trade unions and building societies.
Parties have to send information on their donations to the Electoral Commission every quarter.
What are the rules around online campaigning?
There have been repeated warnings that U.K. electoral laws are not fit for purpose in the digital era. They were last updated in 2000, but the nature of digital campaigning is changing and the amount of cash that goes into it is growing. According to the Electoral Commission, the proportion of campaign money being spent on digital rose from 23.9 percent at the 2015 election to 42.8 percent in 2017.
Yet there is no requirement for digital advertisements to state who produced them, as printed leaflets must. The ads can be microtargeted at very specific groups, making it hard to see or regulate what’s being said.
Independent investigations by the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner’s Office have concluded that there is potential for misuse of people’s personal data by campaigners looking to target them on social media.
The Electoral Commission recommends that digital campaign material should have an imprint saying who created it; that spending on campaigns by foreign organizations should be banned; and that the maximum fine for those who break the rules should be increased. Fines are currently capped at £20,000.
Johnson has said his party’s No. 1 priority is to get his Brexit deal through parliament if he wins a majority.
What are the big issues and how are the main parties framing them?
This election was triggered to resolve the Brexit deadlock, but the two main parties are already talking about lots more than Brexit. After years of austerity, the Conservatives and Labour are both keen to get the message out that they want to invest more in public services including health, education and transport.
Johnson has said his party’s No. 1 priority is to get his Brexit deal through parliament if he wins a majority. Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, has pledged to negotiate a new deal within three months and put it to a referendum within six — with remaining in the EU as the alternative option. Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats has promised to cancel Brexit entirely, without holding a referendum, if she wins a majority.
A major theme of the campaign, on which Labour has set the agenda, is health. Corbyn argues a Johnson government would strike a trade deal with the United States that would open up the U.K. National Health Service to privatization by U.S. companies, and drive up the price of medicines.
Another theme could be immigration. Johnson has pledged to introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system and claimed that Labour would introduce “uncontrolled and unlimited immigration.” He wrote to Corbyn this week challenging him to say whether he would continue freedom of movement with the EU.
What do the polls say?
The Tories are enjoying a healthy 12-point lead, according to POLITICO’s poll of polls, with 38 percent of the vote to Labour’s 26 percent.
UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
The Liberal Democrats are in third place with 16 percent, ahead of the Brexit Party with 10 percent.
If this were mirrored in the eventual result, the election should produce a majority for the Conservatives. But there are six weeks of campaigning ahead, with all to play for and predicting voting patterns in such a fragmented political landscape is extremely difficult.
A loose alliance of Remain parties — the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru — hope to boost the chances of Remain-supporting MPs with a pact that involves them not fielding candidates in 60 constituencies to allow one of the other parties a clear run. Tactical voting along Brexit lines in other constituencies could also have a major impact.
And the polls themselves can be unreliable: In 2017, most of them significantly underestimated Labour’s vote share. Where several pollsters had been predicting a Conservative landslide, Labour ended up taking seats off the Tories and depriving them of a majority in parliament.
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