A Guide to the British General Election: Part 2

4 mins read

By Nathan Tipping

This is the second and final part in Uttryck’s series about the upcoming General Election in the UK. The first part is about why there is an election at all. 

How does British Parliament work?

The British Parliament is made up of 650 seats, each representing their respective constituency. At least 326 seats are needed for a party to win a majority.

Current makeup of the British Parliament. Conservative Party is blue, Labour is red & The Scottish National Party is yellow.

The predictions made here should be taken with a pinch of salt — with 6 weeks of campaigning to go, public opinion could still change significantly. Given the majoritarian First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system used in British elections, predicting the change in seats requires a certain amount of guesswork. But, as mentioned previously, May would not have called the election in the first place if she did not believe she could land herself with a stronger majority.

Which parties are hoping to make gains in this election?

Conservative Party

According to the current polls, the Conservative Party will almost certainly be the big winner.

Running on a platform which promises ‘strong and stable leadership’ and a clean break from the EU, May’s campaign appears to be fairly narrow in focus. By essentially vowing to “just get on with it”, May will likely tap into the small-c conservatism of the British public, and present the election as a chance for the public to affirm their support for her Brexit plans. A decisive victory, May argues, will strengthen her hand at the negotiating table throughout the upcoming Brexit negotiations. If this sounds slightly nonsensical, that’s largely because it is. More likely, a solid majority and an influx of new MPs will allow May to drown out criticism from her more vocal backbenchers if they become unhappy with the direction Brexit appears to be heading in.

After being in government for seven years May will have to fend off attacks on her party’s track record. Yet perhaps the most unusual feature of the Conservative campaign so far has been its apparent success in keeping the typical national issues most elections hinge on out of the discussion.

Current Seats: 330
Predicted Seats: 380-420

Liberal Democrats

Following the 2010-2015 coalition with the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats were punished heavily by the electorate, losing around 80 percent of their seats. Since then, the party has been looking to recoup its battered reputation and rebuild its base of support. Due to FPTP, Liberal Democrat gains are difficult to predict. They look set to win anywhere between 3 to 30 seats across England and Scotland, the majority of which will be in areas that 1) were previously held by Liberal Democrat MPs and/or 2) voted Remain.

Although the Brexit vote was the antithesis of the Liberal Democrats’ beliefs, it may have offered a lifeline for their electoral prospects. Labour’s unclear stance on Brexit and the Conservatives’ hardline stance has allowed the Liberal Democrats to carve out a distinctive policy position. Offering a second referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal, with the option to remain in the EU, will certainly chime with some Remainers and disgruntled Leavers. Yet it is unclear how many of the public feel strongly enough about the EU to base their vote on it.

Current Seats: 9
Predicted Seats: 12-25

Which parties look likely to lose out?

The Labour Party

As it stands, the situation looks incredibly bleak for Labour. Briefly put, Labour’s current problems include: a confused stance on Brexit; their unpopular leader, Jeremy Corbyn; a series of internal disputes, and an ineffective press operation. A number of moderate Labour MPs seeking reelection have taken to distancing themselves from Corbyn in local campaigns, instead running on their own record.

This election could be the breaking point for the Labour Party. The question is not so much “Can Labour win the election?”, as without a major shift it appears that they clearly cannot. Rather, the two questions political pundits are asking is “How badly will they lose by?” and “What will happen afterwards?”.

A report released this year by the Fabian Society, a centre-left think tank long associated with the Labour Party, warned that a general election could see the party drop to fewer than 150 seats. Such a defeat would confine Labour to the opposition for the foreseeable future.

Although Corbyn is unpopular with the public, he is highly popular with the party’s membership base. It is not outside the realms of possibility that a defeated Labour Party would elect another hard-left candidate and truly confine the party to the political margins. In the event of this, a split in the party is also possible. There has been talk (and, admittedly, nothing more than talk so far) of the formation of a new centrist, liberal party. Again, this is not impossible, given that this is exactly what happened during the 1980s. Regardless, a very large question mark currently hangs over the Party’s future.

Current Seats: 229
Predicted Seats: 140-200

United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

The EU referendum was a make or break moment for UKIP. Unfortunately, for the current leader Paul Nuttall and his party, the latter appears to be true. This election will likely be a fairly brutal fall from grace for UKIP. Having polled at 12.7 percent in 2015, but winning only one seat, UKIP’s vote has been steadily declining since the EU referendum. Unless anything changes soon, then UKIP will likely slip below 7 percent on polling day.

UKIP’s problems are many and varied. Their only MP defected from the party this year following a fall out with former leader Nigel Farage; the party’s major financial donor recently jumped ship; May appears to be following through with a hard Brexit; and their new leader has made a series of false and frankly bizarre statements. Despite all these problems, UKIP should not be written off completely. If voters believe May’s stance on the EU is too soft, then UKIP could enjoy a surprise resurgence. Don’t bank on it though.

Current Seats: 0
Predicted Seats: 0

Scottish National Party (SNP)

The 2015 general election saw Scotland turn almost completely yellow, and this is not about to change anytime soon. After being in government in Scotland for 14 years, the SNP have to truly own their track record — warts and all. An unprecedented Tory surge in Scotland, caused by unionist voters switching away from Labour, may put some seats at risk. Nevertheless, Scotland will likely remain firmly in the hands of the SNP over the coming years.

Current Seats: 54
Predicted Seats: 45-52

Note: Northern Ireland is not included in this analysis, as none of the main parties in Great Britain compete there.

By Nathan Tipping

Banner photo: Flickr CC

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