Voters’ guide

Nuns voting in London in the 2015 elections The UK looks set to have a general election on 8 June. Here’s what you need to know.

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What has happened?

The UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that she wants to hold a general election on 8 June – three years earlier than scheduled.

What is a general election?

A general election is how the British public decide who they want to represent them in Parliament, and ultimately run the country. Everyone who is eligible – and registered – gets to vote for one candidate to represent their local area – which is known in Parliament as a constituency.

The candidates standing for election are usually drawn from political parties, but can also stand as independents. The person with the most votes in a constituency is elected as its MP, to represent their constituency in the House of Commons.

The leader of the political party with the most MPs after the election is expected to be asked by the Queen to become prime minister and form a government to run the country. The leader of the political party with the second highest number of MPs normally becomes leader of the opposition.

Who is allowed to vote?

Basically, if you’re aged 18 or over on election day, registered to vote and a British citizen you can vote. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident in the UK and citizens of qualifying Commonwealth states resident in the UK can also vote if they are over 18 and registered to vote.

What if I live abroad?

British citizens living abroad can register online to vote as an “overseas voter” if they have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years.

How do I register to vote?

To vote in a general election you must be registered to vote. Registration is open throughout the year, although there will be a deadline for registering to vote at this general election once the date has officially been confirmed by Parliament.

Voters can check if they are already registered by contacting their local electoral registration office using the Electoral Commission’s website.

People in England, Wales and Scotland can register to vote online, or download the forms to register by post, from the government’s website. Voters in Northern Ireland use a different form that is returned to their local Area Electoral Office.

When is the deadline to register to vote?

Assuming you are eligible, you can register any time but be aware that there will be a deadline. The deadline to register for the last general election was 12 working days before people went to the polls. Assuming we follow the same timetable, the deadline would be 22 May.

You can even get yourself on the register if you are 16 or 17 but you will have to have turned 18 before 8 June to actually be eligible to vote.

What if I’m on holiday?

You can vote either by post or by proxy – that is appoint someone else to register your vote on your behalf. To do that you can download the form here. Whoever you nominate must be eligible to vote in the election themselves.

If you want to post it, you need to apply 11 working days before the election – in this case 24 May.

What is a ‘snap election’?

British prime ministers used to be free to hold a general election whenever they felt like it – but new laws passed by Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron changed that.

Under the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a general election is supposed to take place every five years on the first Thursday in May. As the most recent general election was in 2015, the next one was scheduled for May 2020.

But an election can be called ahead of schedule for two reasons – if there is a vote of no confidence in the current government or if MPs vote for an early election by a two-thirds majority.

Theresa May has chosen the second option, which would require MPs from her political party – the Conservatives – and also some MPs from opposition party Labour to vote in favour of having the election earlier than that, in this case 8 June 2017.

How unusual is a ‘snap election’?

It depends how you define it but if we’re talking about one that was called less than four years after the previous election, you have to go back to 1966 – in that case the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson wanted to increase the number of Labour MPs in Parliament and “a mandate to govern”.

What are the key dates?

There will be a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday to approve the election plan. If, as expected, it is approved Parliament will break up on 3 May to allow just over a month of full-pelt campaigning ahead of an election on Thursday, 8 June.

What does this mean for Brexit?

Britain is still on course to officially leave the European Union on Friday, 29 March 2019.

Negotiations with other EU nations are not due to start until June meaning the election will probably be over and a new government in place before any serious talking gets under way in Brussels.

The Conservative Party says this is a “one-off chance to hold an election while the European Union agrees its negotiating position”. If Theresa May wins by a big margin in the UK she will see it as a vote of confidence in her strategy for leaving the EU.

But if her slender House of Commons majority is cut further or she loses the election – with anti-Brexit parties such as the Liberal Democrats getting many more MPs – then the UK’s current Brexit strategy will be up for grabs.

How do the parties stand in the polls?

The average of five opinion polls published in April puts the Conservatives on a little under 43% compared to a little over 25% for Labour – a lead of more than 17%. This would translate into a comfortable win for Mrs May’s party at an election if that’s how people voted.

The Liberal Democrats were on 10%, UKIP 11% and the Greens on 4%.

Aren’t the polls always wrong?

The opinion polls were wrong about the 2015 general election and the industry has yet to fully fix the problems that caused those inaccuracies. So they should be taken with a pinch of salt. But the gap between Labour and the Conservatives in the polls leading up to the 2015 election was between 0% and 6%. The Conservatives have a much bigger lead than that now.

How would that translate into seats?

It’s not a straightforward process to work it out. Many Labour MPs have “safe” seats – they got thousands more votes than their nearest rivals in 2015, meaning they could lose votes and still retain their place in the Commons. The Conservatives have fewer “safe” seats than Labour. They pulled off their surprise 2015 general election victory by winning seats just where they needed them, such as in Liberal Democrat-held constituencies in the south-west of England.

The danger for Labour is that it piles up votes in seats it already holds – something that happened in 2015 – rather than in areas represented by rival parties. This makes it harder for it to suffer large-scale losses, but it also makes it harder for it to get big gains.

Are there going to be any boundary changes in this election?

No. They were not due to be introduced until 2020. A public consultation is under way with final proposals set to made in 2018.

Is that why Theresa May called the election?

Theresa May’s official reason for holding an election is to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. She claims Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems will try destabilise and frustrate the process in Parliament.

But it is not that unusual for prime ministers who have tiny Commons majorities to hold an election to tighten their grip on power. As things stand, it does not take many Conservative backbenchers – MPs who are not part of the government – to decide they don’t like something the government is doing to get it derailed.

Mrs May is also tied to the plans set out by her predecessor David Cameron at the 2015 general election. She has made a few changes – such as backing grammar schools and easing plans to reduce the deficit – but an election gives her the chance to set out her own vision for Britain.

Are any MPs standing down?

The former chancellor George Osborne is standing down after 16 years, saying he is leaving Westminster “for now”. He is taking on the role of editor at the Evening Standard.

Another well-known name in British politics, Labour’s Alan Johnson, will also be retiring.

Other MPs standing down include:

Tom Blenkinsop – Labour (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland)Iain Wright – Labour (Hartlepool)Pat Glass – Labour (North West Durham)Simon Burns – Conservative (Chelmsford)John Pugh – Lib Dem (Southport)Andrew Smith – Labour (Oxford East)

Elections are also an opportunity for former MPs to get back into the Commons. Former Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has said he plans to stand in the Twickenham seat he lost at the 2015 general election.

How do the parties currently stand?

The Conservatives have 330 seats, Labour 229, the SNP 54, the Lib Dems nine and Plaid Cymru three. The Green Party has one MP. UKIP have no MPs after their sole representative left the party and became an independent. For Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party have eight MPs, Sinn Fein, who don’t take up their seats, four, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) three and the Ulster Unionist Party two. Five MPs sit as independents.

What does Labour say about the early election?

Leader Jeremy Corbyn has welcomed Mrs May’s announcement. He says it is a “chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first”.

What about the Scottish National Party?

SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has described Theresa May’s plans for a general election as a “huge political miscalculation” and said she would make “Scotland’s voice heard” in opposition to more cuts and the most extreme form of Brexit she claims Mrs May is seeking.

Where do the Lib Dems stand?

Leader Tim Farron says his party will be putting the UK’s membership of the EU single market “front and centre” of their general election campaign, and campaigning to “avoid a disastrous hard Brexit”.

What do you want to know about the general election?

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Political party conferences 2016: At-a-glance guide

Activists at the UKIP conference in Bournemouth Image copyright PA Here is an at-a-glance guide to the 2016 party conference season…

Conservative conferenceMedia playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionIn full: Theresa May’s conference speech

The headlines:

In her first big conference as leader, the prime minister set out her vision for the party and country, as she vowed to build a “united Britain” in which “fairness is restored”Home Secretary Amber Rudd set out plans to make firms do more to employ British people – but they provoked a furious backlash from political leaders and businesses. Chancellor Philip Hammond said he was ready to boost spending and axe his predecessor George Osborne’s plans to balance the nation’s finances by 2020 to help guard against Brexit “turbulence” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to increase the number of medical school places by 25% – to 7,500 a year – from 2018, under plans to make England “self-sufficient” in training doctors Education Secretary Justine Greening announced six “opportunity areas” in England in a £60m scheme to promote social mobility, supporting schools and links with employersLegal measures to protect UK troops from “spurious” claims of misconduct were unveiled by the governmentThe PM kicked off the conference on Sunday by announcing that the UK will begin the formal Brexit negotiation process by the end of March 2017

In more depth:

Labour conferenceMedia playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionJeremy Corbyn conference speech in full

The headlines:

After securing re-election as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn called on the party and MPs to end infighting and concentrate on taking on the Conservative government. He said Labour should build support by focusing on the needs and aspirations of middle and lower income voters.London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned members not to get comfortable being in opposition, saying Labour in power meant more affordable housing and transport, less polluted air and better pay and conditions for workers. Rule changes giving Labour’s Scottish and Welsh parties a seat on Labour’s governing body, the NEC, were approved after an angry row.Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner pledged Labour “will defeat” government plans to expand grammar schools in England as selection by ability “entrenches division and increases inequality”.

In more depth:

Scottish National Party conference Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionAn emotional Nicola Sturgeon was applauded after announcing her children in care review Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionSNP Conference: Nicola Sturgeon webcast

The headlines:

The conference began with leader Nicola Sturgeon announcing a consultation on plans for a second Scottish independence referendum.Later, in her key speech, Ms Sturgeon told her party’s conference that she was to undertake a “root and branch review” of Scotland’s children in care system. Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney said that students from EU countries starting in 2017/18 would pay no fees.Delegates overwhelmingly backed a motion in favour of decriminalising cannabis for medical use.

In more depth:

Liberal Democrat conference Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionThe Lib Dem leader talked of Brexit, refugees, education and the NHS

The headlines:

Tim Farron used his conference speech to tell Labour voters only the Lib Dems can provide “strong opposition” to the Tories. Mr Farron praised some of the policies of ex-PM Tony Blair, saying Labour had “left the stage” under Jeremy CorbynNick Clegg said the government had “absolutely no clue” how to deal with the Brexit vote, saying they were “up a creek without a paddle, a canoe or a map”But Vince Cable said he opposed Lib Dem plans to push for another referendum on the UK’s future in Europe when the Brexit deal is negotiatedLord Ashdown said the Lib Dems needed to build alliances with centre-left “progressives” to defeat the Conservatives, saying the party cannot do it alone

In more depth:

UKIP conference Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionDiane James addresses the UKIP conference after being elected leader Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionNigel Farage addresses the UKIP conference for the last time as leader

The headlines:

Diane James was elected UKIP leader, defeating four other candidatesIn her acceptance speech, she said UKIP could be the “opposition in waiting” and called on Theresa May to get on with leaving the EUShe also called for unity in the party in Wales, amid infighting involving senior members Neil Hamilton and Nathan GillBowing out as UKIP leader, Nigel Farage said he had given the party “all of me” but while taking a backseat would not be retiring from politics

In more depth:

The Green Party of England and Wales conference Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionThe moment the Green Party elected two leaders on a joint ticket. Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionCaroline Lucas: No compromise on fracking or nuclear

The headlines:

Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the party in a job-sharing arrangement, beating five other candidatesIn a joint acceptance speech, the pair said the move showed the party was “not bound by tradition” and also called for the Greens to forge alliances with like-minded groups across the political spectrumAmelia Womack was elected as the party’s sole deputy leader

In more depth:

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At-a-glance: Guide to Labour 2016 conference agenda

Jeremy Corbyn and other members of the National Executive Committee at last year's conference This year’s Labour Party conference is taking place in Liverpool and could be one of the most dramatic for years. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening and some of the main highlights.

Sunday 25 September

09:00: Andrew Marr: Newly re-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to appear on the BBC show and other media outlets during the morning

11:00: Conference opening: The conference will officially be opened by General Secretary Iain McNicol

12:00 Party reform: Debate on policy making in the party

14:15: Communities: Shadow energy secretary Barry Gardiner and shadow environment secretary Rachael Maskell among speakers

16:00: Scotland and Wales: Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones will address the conference

Monday 26 September

09:30: Foreign Affairs: Shadow Foreign and Brexit Secretary Emily Thornberry will address the conference

10:30: Defence: Shadow Defence Secretary Clive Lewis will speak

12:00: Economy: Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell will make his keynote speech

Tuesday 27 September

09:30: Public services: Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner among the speakers

14:15: Tom Watson: The party’s deputy leader will make his set-piece speech

15:00: Sadiq Khan: The Mayor of London will address the conference for the first time since his election in May

Wednesday 28 September

10:30: Home Affairs: Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, who is standing to be Mayor of Greater Manchester, will address the conference

14:15: Leader’s speech: Jeremy Corbyn will give the end-of-conference leader’s address

View the original article here