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Home / World News / UK votes on December 12: All you need to know

UK votes on December 12: All you need to know

Boris Johnson took over from May, but soon realised that despite getting the European Union to tweak May’s Brexit agreement, he did not have support in parliament.

world Updated: Dec 09, 2019 18:28 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a head to head live Election Debate at the BBC TV studios in Maidstone, England. Britain's Brexit is one of the main issues for political parties and for voters, as the UK prepares for a General Election on Dec. 12.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a head to head live Election Debate at the BBC TV studios in Maidstone, England. Britain's Brexit is one of the main issues for political parties and for voters, as the UK prepares for a General Election on Dec. 12. (AP)
         

Elections in the United Kingdom are usually held in the summer, but the December 12 election is the first to be held near Christmas since 1923.

Number of constituencies: 650 (England: 533; Scotland: 59; Wales: 40; Northern Ireland: 18).

Average electorate size: England: 72,400; Scotland: 69,000; Northern Ireland: 66,800; Wales: 56,800.

Smallest electorate: 21,200 in the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency in Scotland.

Largest electorate: 108,600 in Isle of Wight.

Why is this election being held?

This is the second election in which Brexit is the key issue, after the mid-term election called by former Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017. May hoped to win a larger majority to push through her version of Brexit, but ended up losing the slender majority her predecessor David Cameron had won in 2015. Leading a minority government, she was repeatedly defeated in parliament on Brexit-related motions and resigned in July.

Boris Johnson took over from May, but soon realised that despite getting the European Union to tweak May’s Brexit agreement, he did not have support in parliament. After repeated defeats, it became clear that only another election could resolve the Brexit imbroglio.

Who are the main players?

British politics has long been dominated by two parties: Labour and Conservative. But smaller parties have made major gains in recent years; such as Liberal Democrats and UK Independence Party (now in its new incarnation as the Brexit Party). The Conservative party has been in power most recently since 2010, when it led the coalition David Cameron government with the Liberal Democrats (2010-2015). Cameron led the party to a small majority in 2015, but stepped down after the 2016 referendum on UK’s membership of the EU. Brexit-related politics has since blurred loyalties, with rebels from both main parties joining hands in the last parliament, and some joining rival parties.

What are the key poll promises?

The main Brexit promises revolve around the shape and form of Brexit. The Conservative party promises to deliver Brexit by January 31 (the new deadline to leave the EU) based on the agreement reached with the EU by the Johnson government. Labour promises to negotiate a new agreement with the EU, and put it to the people before another referendum with two options: agree to leave with the new agreement or remain in the EU. The 2016 referendum result was close: 52 per cent voted to leave the EU, 48 per cent to remain.

Labour’s ‘second referendum’ promise has the backing of most non-Conservative parties, potentially leading to a labour-led non-Conservative coalition after the election. Opinion polls suggest the Conservative party is ahead of Labour, but if the former does not win a majority, it will lead to another round of Brexit-related political blood-letting in 2020.

What is the majority mark in the House of Commons?

The majority mark is 326, but the real contest between the two main parties is to reach an effective majority, which is smaller than 326. The speaker and his three deputy speakers do not usually vote in the House. Also, Sinn Fein, the Northern Ireland-based party, which won seven seats in 2017, traditionally refuses to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth; their MPs do not take up their seats in the House, thus further reducing the effective majority mark.

Pundit-speak:

Political expert John Curtice: “I would say the Conservative party is 2:1 on to get a majority. The chances of a Labour majority are close to zero, but that is not what this election is about. This election is a choice between whether Boris Johnson gets a majority or not.”

“Everyone else is in favour of a second referendum. So once Johnson is anything more than just a little bit below the 326 mark required for an overall majority, his ability to remain in office becomes increasingly tenuous”.

“The Labour party doesn’t have to get more seats than the Tories. They just simply need to get Boris below 315. So at the end, this is pretty much a binary election.”

“Hung parliament – then we are almost undoubtedly heading towards an extension (to the January 31 Brexit date) and a second referendum; or, we get a majority and we go out on 31st of January and Boris is charged with the task”.

How they stood

The state of parties when the House of Commons was dissolved on November 6:

Conservative: 298

Labour: 243

Scottish National Party: 35

Independents: 24

Liberal Democrats: 20

DUP: 10

Sinn Fein: 7

The Independent Group for Change: 5

Plaid Cymru: 4

Green party: 1

Speaker: 1

Vacant: 2

There were 12 MPs of Indian origin in the dissolved House of Commons; the number is likely to increase. The first three Indian-origin MPs in British history were Dadabhai Naoroji (1892, Finsbury Central), Mancherjee Bhownagree (1895, Bethnal Green North East) and Shapurji Saklatvala (1922, 1924, Battersea North). There was then a gap of 63 years before Labour’s Keith Vaz was elected from Leicester East in 1987.