UK Election Spotlight Follow-up: Solid Conservative Victory Gives Johnson a Mandate for BrexitDec. 29th, 2019

With the votes cast in the third election in the United Kingdom in five years, voters have given the Conservative Party an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons. Since this election largely became a proxy battle for the future of Brexit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken this victory as a mandate to pursue with full speed a withdrawal agreement with the European Union.

Conservatives Make Gains through Labour’s “Red Wall”

Success for Johnson and the Conservatives came mainly through flipping seats in traditionally held Labour constituencies known as the “Red Wall,” some of which have been held for decades. Of note, while Labour lost 10.4% of support in districts which voted strongly to Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum, it also lost 6.4% in Remain districts. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledged the disappointing performance and indicated he would resign in the coming weeks. The success of the Tories underlines a general dissatisfaction with Labour and a well-received Conservative message to working class constituencies.

SNP Adds to Scottish Dominance

In Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) gained 8.1% of the vote from the previous election for a net of 13 additional seats, halving the number of Conservative seats and virtually eliminating all Labour seats from the region. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon views this as a “clear message” for the Scottish independence movement, and seeks a second referendum on the subject, a move opposed by the ruling Conservatives.

Moderate Parties Begin to Reshape Northern Ireland Politics

In Northern Ireland, results show a defeat for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), losing two seats. Since the Conservatives have a comfortable majority after this election, DUP no longer has the sway over the Brexit negotiations it previously had under Prime Minister Theresa May. The success of more moderate parties, such as the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Alliance, also indicates a dissatisfaction with sectarian politics between DUP and Sinn Féin (SF), and may bring both parties to the negotiating table to restore the regional Assembly for Northern Ireland.

UK Election SpotlightDec 12th, 2019

Billions of people cast their votes every year to elect the leaders of their respective countries. Eagle Coalition’s staff wants to highlight the importance of global democracy in its series called Election Spotlight. Each article in the series will provide an introductory overview of the government and politics of the country as well as the key figures and issues at stake in the upcoming election. Our staff will try to cover as many elections as possible, but emphasis will be given to countries who conduct fair and free elections based on Freedom House’s Freedom in the World rating system. Each Spotlight will be published just prior to the date of the election, with a follow-up article on the results and impact of the election coming once results are recorded.

After months of heated debate in Parliament over Brexit, culminating in Prime Minister Boris Johnson losing his governing majority, a snap election was called in hopes to “break the deadlock.” British and Irish voters take to the polls on Thursday, December 12 to voice their concerns over the political future of the United Kingdom.

What kind of government and politics does the United Kingdom have?

The UK is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of the United Kingdom (currently Elizabeth II) is the head of state while the Prime Minister (currently Boris Johnson) is the head of government through a multi-party parliament.

The UK is comprised of four constituent countries, three on Great Britain – England, Scotland, and Wales – as well as Northern Ireland. While each of these countries (excluding England) has regional parliaments or assemblies, the UK Parliament makes decisions on behalf of the entire kingdom.

The 650 seats of the House of Commons – the lower but significantly more important house of UK’s Parliament – are elected in the same number of constituencies in a first-past-the-post system (that is, whichever candidate receives the most votes wins that seat). All British citizens 18 years and older are eligible to vote. After decades of voter turnouts above 70%, turnout rates bottomed out in 2001 at 59.4%, but have steadily increased since then.

Prime Minister and Conservative leader Boris Johnson (left) and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

Who are the major candidates and political parties?

While the UK has multiple parties, a few key parties are major players in British politics:

  • Conservative Party: Also known as the Tories, the Conservative Party is a center-right party currently led by Boris Johnson, Prime Minister in the last parliament. The party favors free market economics and opposes efforts to break up the United Kingdom, such as Irish reunification and independence for Scotland and Wales. At dissolution of the last Parliament, the Conservatives had 298 seats.
  • Labour Party: the Labour Party is a center-left party currently led by Jeremy Corbyn. The party favors workers’ rights and hold progressive social stances. Labour had 244 seats in the last parliament and was the largest opposition party.
  • Scottish National Party (SNP): SNP is a left-leaning party based in Scotland currently lead by Nicola Sturgeon. It favors Scottish independence from the UK and seeks to hold another referendum on the subject after one failed in 2014. In the last parliament SNP held 35 seats.
  • Liberal Democrats: Known as the Lib Dems, this is a liberal pro-European party currently lead by Jo Swinson. The party favors socially and economically liberal reforms such as increasing the income tax to aid funding of the National Health Service. Lib Dems had 21 seats at the end of the last parliament.
  • Brexit Party: Founded in 2018, the Brexit Party is a Eurosceptic party founded and led by Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party. Its main position is in favor of British withdrawal from the European Union. It did not hold any seats in the last parliament. 

In Northern Ireland, a different set of political parties contest its 17 seats. Its two major parties include:

  • Democratic Unionist Party (DUP): DUP favors the continued union with the UK. DUP held 10 seats in the last parliament and were part of a confidence agreement with the minority Conservative government.
  • Sinn Féin (SF): A major party in the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland, SF favors Irish nationalism and an all-Irish reunification. SF won 7 seats in the last election, but due to its abstentionist opposition to the British monarchy, its members do not take their seats in Parliament.

Who is predicted to win?

Since the campaigning period began on November 6, the Conservatives have been leading in the polls, most recently polling at 42% compared to Labour’s 36% and Lib Dems’ 11%. All other parties are below 10% nationally, although SNP has a plurality in Scotland at 39% over Conservative (29%) and Labour (21%). In Northern Ireland, DUP (28%) holds a narrow lead over SF (24%).

Brexit has become the most prominent issue in British politics. Source: AFP

What are the key issues for this election?

While there are some issues that each of the parties are campaigning on, only one issue has truly consumed British politics the last few years: Brexit.

In June 2016, British voters narrowly decided to leave the European Union. Since then, leaders in Parliament have struggled to come up with a deal with EU leaders that separates the UK from the EU while avoiding economic turbulence or a re-ignition of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.Arguably this election can be seen as a “referendum” on the future of Brexit, as the major parties have released a position on the issue. The Conservatives seek to enact the withdrawal agreement originally proposed by previous Prime Minister Theresa May and amended by Johnson. Labour wants to renegotiate with the EU and then present this deal to voters in a second referendum. Liberal Democrats and SNP both oppose Brexit and would hold a second referendum and campaign to remain in the EU. Meanwhile, Farage’s Brexit Party seeks a “no-deal” Brexit and have criticized Johnson’s most recent effort for a negotiated exit.

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