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UK General Election: the Three Fights Defining the Christmas Election

Ninety-six years ago, the United Kingdom headed to the polls for only the second time under its current borders, and for the last time in December until 2019. The incumbent Conservative Prime Minister called the election in an attempt to gain a fresh mandate for his policy agenda, as the last election had been won by his predecessor, and not him. Emboldened by his chance to tighten his individual grip on the party and country, the Prime Minister braved the winter cold and sent the British people to the polls.

Remind you of anyone?

Former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (CON-ECR) became UK Prime Minister at the end of July 2019. Despite maintaining throughout the summer and autumn that he did not want an election, he subsequently voted for one. Parliament voted to dissolve itself and call fresh elections after Johnson’s newly renegotiated withdrawal agreement from the European Union failed to be agreed on the Prime Minister’s preferred timetable.

On Thursday 12th December, all registered adults who are citizens of the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth will have the opportunity to select one of the 650 MPs which make-up the lower, more powerful house of the UK parliament, the house of commons. Each MP represents a single-member district or constituency and is elected by achieving a simple plurality under the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

The election is split up into two-and-a-half key fights. The most hotly contested one is being fought between the UK’s two main parties, the Conservatives (CON-ECR) and the Labour Party (LAB-S&D), in the battle for 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British Prime Minister. There’s a second tussle lower down in the polls, also, for potential coalition or confidence-and-supply partners in government—not necessarily competing against each other directly, but definitely competing for the same role on December 13th. Lastly, there are several parties also fighting for relevance, and for the continuation or achievement of parliamentary representation.

The polls are tightening, so who will win the yuletide struggle?

King of the hill

After a narrow defeat in the last snap election under Theresa May’s leadership, the Conservative Party’s MPs were baying for blood. In early summer of this year, they got it, after May failed to pass a Brexit withdrawal agreement. Johnson won his leadership in a landslide of the party membership on a platform of ending austerity—which is the party’s government cuts agenda operated since 2010—and delivering Brexit. And that’s what he has tried to do at all costs, including suspending parliament to try and minimise parliamentary scrutiny on his brexit proposals and now calling a general election. 

Running on a platform of Brexit this election, as well as moderate government spending increases, Johnson’s blue team are on track to win a governing majority. Despite dodging TV debates and the major Andrew Neil Interviews, Johnson remains the favourite to be Prime Minister, and his party to have a majority after 12th December, despite a challenge in his own constituency from none other than Lord Buckethead himself.

Labour, on the other hand, are still holding out for a change of pace. Veteran leader Jeremy Corbyn defied the odds in 2017 by increasing the party’s vote and seat share, on a platform of massive government spending and investment, funded by tax increases on the wealthy and corporations. His party’s 2019 manifesto doesn’t look too dissimilar, with the brandy on the policy platform’s Christmas pudding being a commitment to negotiate a softer brexit, and then put it to a referendum alongside remain within six months.

But will this pivot to a pro-remain commitment save the Labour party from a fourth defeat in as many elections? It’s not looking hugely likely. Struggling against the squeeze of other remain-side parties, Labour looks set to miss out on defeating their centre-right Conservative rivals despite gradual increase of support in polling during the campaign. Many in the party had believed and continue to believe a 2017-style upset was possible, if not likely. While there’s of course only one poll that matters in politics, much would need to change by Thursday 12th for the red wave to reach Britain’s shores.

Would-be Deputy Prime Ministers

Like the satsumas that Santa brings good children in British folklore, the Liberal Democrats (LDEM-RE) will be hoping for lots of orange on December 13th. After five years in a coalition government with the Conservative Party between 2010–15, the party has tried hard to shake off this Conservative-lite reputation after their collapse in 2015. In doing this, the party has gained a new leader, Jo Swinson, who began the General Election campaign claiming that she could well be the next Prime Minister. Destined to fall short of significant seat gains, she has begun to talk about her party as a kingmaker, discussing potential dealbreakers for agreements with the Conservatives or Labour. While the party looks set to nearly double its vote share compared to 2017, gaining seats will be significantly trickier thanks to first-past-the-post electoral system.

In the UK’s second-largest constituent country, Scotland, the progressive regionalist Scottish National Party (SNP-G/EFA) look set to make significant gains in Scotland. After winning 56 out of 59 Scottish seats in 2015 elections, the party lost twenty-one seats in 2017, and is projected to regain more than ten of those on the 12th. Capitalising on discontent with Brexit, the party is using the election to gain traction on its drive for a second independence referendum—a dealbreaker, it says, on its support for any government.

In Northern Ireland, where a separate set of parties contest its 18 seats, the conservative and Christian fundamentalist DUP (NI)—the 2017–19 confidence and supply partners of the Conservatives—are hoping to hold onto all ten of the seats they won in 2017. The Democratic Unionists are standing on a platform of opposing Johnson’s withdrawal agreement from the EU and recent extension of equal marriage and abortion rights to Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein (SF-GUE/NGL), are also hoping to hold their seven seats. However, as the party does not take their seats in Westminster, as they do not recognise the authority of the UK Government, or the UK monarch, over Northern Ireland, they will not be playing a kingmaker role.

Europe Elects’ UK seat projection five days before the election day

Finding their voice

Despite the European-wide green surge, the Green parties of the UK (Green Party of England and Wales, Green Party of Northern Ireland, Scottish Green Party, all part of the G/EFA European Parliamentary group) look set to remain with a solitary member in the House of Commons. The party celebrated its best-ever result in the European Elections in June and is, despite no projected seat gains, on course to net its second-highest ever vote share on Thursday 12th.

Plaid Cymru (G/EFA), a regional party in Wales, looks set to hold its ground in the coming election, not gaining the momentum of their Scottish fellow progressive regionalists. The party, led by a new leader Adam Price, advocates for an independent Wales in the European Union and, thanks to an electoral pact with the Greens and Liberal Democrats, are likely to maintain their current four-person delegation to Westminster.

Despite not winning any seats in the previous general election, Northern Irish parties Alliance (APNI-RE) and the SDLP (S&D) both hope to send at least one MP to London following the 12th December election.

Whatever happens on election day and over results night, there’s only one place you need to go to keep up with the results: nowhere. Our social media will be awash with results and our live blog will be filled with the very best late-night musings in the business. Be ready to relentlessly refresh the Europe Elects twitter feed and liveblog from 22:00 GMT as the results begin to arrive.