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A Guide to the UK 2024 General Election

Written by Anoushka Patel Edited by Annika Lilja


On the 22nd of May 2024, the UK’s Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak stepped out into the pouring rain in front of number 10 Downing Street to announce that the UK general election will be taking place on the 4th of July this year. In the UK, PMs have powers called ‘royal prerogative powers’, which grants them the ability to decide when to hold an election, as long as it is within their five-year term. 


As there is a disparity between the electoral process in the UK and other democracies like the USA, I have put together a simple guide on how our general elections work, what our main political parties are, and what policies they are putting forward, as well as the predicted results according to opinion polls.


How do the UK general elections work?

In the UK, the electoral system is known as First Past the Post (FPTP). According to the London School of Economics and Politics, this term means that whichever political party secures a ‘plurality’ of votes (more votes than anyone else) will win the seat. This system is also referred to as ‘winner takes all,’ because even if the results were close, the parties with smaller shares of the vote would not gain any seats – this would be proportional representation. 


Although the UK Parliament has two chambers – the House of Commons and the House of Lords – only the Commons is elected by the electorate. Members of the Commons are referred to as MPs (Members of Parliament) and there are 650 in total that sit in the Commons. An MP is responsible for representing its constituency (the region that they are assigned to contest) and by extension its constituents. MPs are nearly always members of a political party, though a handful are independent. 

For a political party to win the general election, there can be three possible outcomes. The most desirable of these is an outright majority, which the current governing Conservative Party has under PM Rishi Sunak. The second of these is known as a minority government; this is when the governing party has the largest number of MPs, but not enough to exceed the 326 needed for a majority. This leads to political parties coming to a formal agreement with each other to shore up enough support. This can be in the form of a confidence and supply agreement, whereby a smaller party will support the government in motions of confidence (a vote on whether the PM can stay in power) and budget (supply) votes, by either voting in favor of the government or abstaining. Additionally, a hung Parliament (where no single political party wins a majority) can result in the formation of a coalition government. In the UK, this involves two parties entering a power-sharing agreement together, where in theory, both have an equal say over decision-making.


What are the UK’s main political parties and their policies?

In the UK, we have a multi-party system, meaning that several parties can nominate candidates to run for parliamentary seats. The three main parties are the Conservative Party (right-wing and has been in power for the last fourteen years), the Labour Party (left-wing), and the Liberal Democrats (centre-left). 


The Conservative (Tory) Party

The Tory Party is currently led by PM Rishi Sunak, who came to power in late 2022. The party has a longstanding reputation of fiscal responsibility, conservative social views, and law and order, not so dissimilar to that of the Republican Party in the USA. 


So far, these are their flagship manifesto policies, as laid out on the Conservative Party’s official website:

  • The National Service Scheme: this would compel people by law to complete a community programme in public service over a 12-month period or enroll in a year-long military training scheme when they turn 18.

  • Rwanda Policy: sending asylum seekers to Rwanda while processing their asylum applications. Thus far, not a single flight has taken place, despite legislation passing earlier this year. 

  • Guaranteeing the pensions ‘triple lock’: pensioners receive an amount designed to keep up with rising prices and wages. In the run-up to the general election, the Conservative Party has promised to raise the tax-free state pension allowance in what they have called a "Triple Lock Plus".


The party’s reputation has been damaged severely in recent years; in the last six years alone, the party has changed leaders five times. The 49-day tenure of Liz Truss in 2022, which left a sizeable dent in the British economy, the Partygate scandal under Boris Johnson, which involved members of the Conservative Party (including Johnson himself) illegally partying during lockdown restrictions, members of government found to be bullying their staff, alongside various other controversies around lobbying, party donations, and incompetence, have definitely soured the image of the party in the eyes of much of the public. 


Additionally, Reform UK – formerly the UK Independence Party (UKIP), an anti-immigration party – seems to be impacting traditional Tory strongholds, dividing the right-wing vote, which will further hamper the Conservative’s electoral fortunes. 


The Labour Party

The Labour Party is the current opposition party, as it is the second-largest political party in the Commons. It is led by Sir Keir Starmer, a former lawyer and Director of Public Prosecutions from 2003 to 2018. The party is the natural home of those with left-leaning views and receives the support of trade unions. 


So far, these are the party’s flagship policies, according to the Labour Party’s ‘Missions for Britain’ on their official website:

  • Cut NHS waiting times: 40,000 more evening and weekend doctor appointments each week paid for by clamping down on tax avoidance.

  • Scrapping the ‘non-dom’ status: those who have a ‘non-dom status’ refers to UK residents who have their permanent home ('domicile') outside the UK and may not have to pay UK tax on foreign income. It caused uproar when it emerged that PM Sunak’s wife, the multi-millionaire heiress Akshata Murty, had this status despite living in the UK.

  • Setting up Great British Energy: a publicly owned clean power company, to cut energy bills and boost energy security, paid for by a windfall tax on oil and gas companies.

  • Raise defense spending to 2.5% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) 


The Labour Party suffered a humiliating defeat under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019; Corbyn was widely seen as a socialist who was popular within the party but considered to be too left-wing by much of the wider public, particularly due to his views on Russia and nuclear deterrence. Since Kier Starmer assumed leadership, the party has been accused of becoming centre-right, purging the party of ‘Corbynites’ (supporters of Corbyn) and abandoning its core ideals to appeal to the wider electorate. 


The Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems)

The Liberal Democrats are the traditional third main political party in the UK. Even though the SNP (Scottish National Party) currently has more seats than the Lib Dems, the latter has recently seen electoral success in by-elections (where MPs are replaced mid-term due to resignation or death) and the May 2024 local elections. Additionally, the Lib Dems contest seats across the UK, whereas the SNP only campaign in Scotland. Currently, the Lib Dems are led by Sir Ed Davey.


So far, these are the party’s proposed policies, which have been set out in their ‘Fair Deal’ plan of action on their official website: 

  • Give everyone a new right to see their GP (General Practitioner) within 7 days, or 24 hours if it is urgent.

  • Ban water companies from dumping raw sewage into rivers, lakes, and coastal areas.

  • Revamp the electoral system by introducing proportional representation for electing MPs and local councilors in England. 

  • Repair the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit (the UK formally left the European Union in 2020 and has since had rocky relations with its European neighbours).


What are the predicted results?

YouGov, Survation, and The Guardian all put Labour ahead in the polls. According to reports by The Guardian, Electoral Calculus has predicted that Labour will win an astonishing 476 seats, pushing the Conservatives to electoral oblivion. Since 2022, the Conservative Party has consistently trailed Labour in the polls, even as far as twenty-six points behind Labour, according to a poll by Redfield and Wilton reported by The Independent. 


While polls are never completely accurate, and there are margins for error, it seems the public mood and even politicians themselves have come to a consensus that the Conservative Party is heading for a huge defeat come July. Cabinet minister Michael Gove – who has served in four Conservative cabinets – announced that he would not be standing in the general election on the 24th of May, marking the latest name in a mass exodus of nearly 80 Conservative MPs, who are under the impression that their time in government will likely be coming to an end. 


After fourteen years in power, the Conservative Party appears to be losing its grip over the electorate. While public attitudes may be swayed more by dislike and fatigue with the corruption and scandal of the Conservatives rather than optimism for Labour, it is clear that in July, the UK is likely to have a different party and leader in charge. 


 

Sources:


For a Fair Deal (2024) Liberal Democrats. Available at: https://www.libdems.org.uk/plan 

Join Rishi Today: Clear Plan, Bold Action, Secure Future (2024) Conservatives. https://www.conservatives.com/ 


Kuenssberg, L. and McKiernan, J. (2024) Michael Gove steps down in mass exodus of MPs before election, BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/cv22pk09478o 


Leach, A. et al. (2024) UK general election opinion polls tracker: Labour significantly ahead of Tories as campaign continues, The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2024/may/28/uk-general-election-opinion-polls-tracker-latest-labour-tories 


Missions for Britain (2024) The Labour Party. Available at: https://labour.org.uk/missions/ 


Seddon, P. and Casciani, D. (2024) No Rwanda flights before election, says Rishi Sunak, BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-69052507#comments 


The LSE’s simple guide to UK voting systems (2013) British Politics and Policy at LSE. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/the-lses-simple-guide-to-uk-voting-systems/ 


Zakir-Hussain, M. et al. (2024) General election polls – live: Labour set to win more seats than 1997, Forecast says, The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/general-election-2024-poll-tracker-labour-tories-yougov-b2555754.html 

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