Monday, 3 May 2010

UK General Election 2010 - An introduction

On Thursday the electorate of the United Kingdom will face the polls (with the exception of the 15% of us who are postal voters), over 650 constiuencies. We must all, individually decide whether to support our current Government or vote for a change in representation at local or national level. This post is designed to give you a quick rundown of the parties involved, some key seats and a background to the UK voting system.


In the UK we have a multiple party first past the post system. In effect that means we have 650 different elections, and in each area they will elect one member of parliament who will effectively represent them in the House of Commons. The first past the post system is designed to make it easier for clear majorities to be won. In 2005 68% of votes went to the two biggest parties and gained them 86% of the seats.

In order for one party to hold a majority they need to win 326 (half) of these seats - failure to do so will result in a hung parliament and a coalition of parties holding the balance of power. It is unsure how this balance will look if a hung parliament is the result. If a party has an overall majority then the Prime Minister will be the party leader, if no overall majority then current PM Gordon Brown will remain in the job until a coalition is formed which either supports him or rejects him. It is worth noting that the election is for the party, not the leader who is selected by the party they are members of (Gordon Brown, for instance took the party over following Tony Blair's resignation and this is the first time he has faced an election as party leader).

Since the 2005 General Election the independent Electoral Commission has changed the boundaries on a large number of constituencies and added 4 more in England. This means that all the statistics and estimates that I (and all the major election observers) make are based on nominal results, the 2005 results based on what the bounderies are now. This is essentially calculated guesswork, so take any of my predictions with a pince of salt.

The Big Three

Labour is currently the ruling party, winning 356 seats at the last General Election, the party have been in power since the decisive 1997 Election. The leader is Gordon Brown, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The parties roots are in socialist ideals, although since the creation of "New Labour" that message has become diluted. Opinion polls right now indicate a large fall in support, with the party set to lose over 100 seats and to no longer be the largest.

Conservatives are the main opposition party, with 198 seats at 2005. They have also gained 2 additional seats in by-elections since then. Prior to Labours 1997 victory the Conservatives had been in power for 18 years. The leader is David Cameron, MP for Witney. The Tories are generally to the right of Labour, with a majority support from business and white-collar workers. They are expected to become the largest party at the end of the week, but may not have enough for a majority in the House. Expect an additional 80 seats.

Liberal Democrats are the third party, which is a first past the post system leaves them at a major disadvantage. In 2005 they had 22% of the popular votes, but less than 10% (62) of the seats. The leader is Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam). If you first imagined hand-wringing Guardianista's supporting them then you're on the right tracks - not as militant as Labour the party is a strong supporter of redistributive tax policies. The TV election debates have done wonders for raising the profile of the party, and it should lead to an additional 30 plus seats.

National Parties (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)

One of the unique aspects of British society is the impact of the Union. Devolution has meant that in the various nations we have parties that represent the people of their individual nations. In Scotland and Wales these parties fight against the top three, in Northern Ireland they are sole representatives.

Scottish National Party fairly obviously represent Scottish voters. In 2005 they had 6 MPs. Alex Salmond, the leader of the party is not standing for election in Westminster as he is also the first minister of the devolved Scottish Parliament, Angus Robertson (Moray) will be the leader of the SNP in Westminster. The SNP can be described as a centre-left party committed to Scottish independence. The polls are generally useless for estimating the impact of smaller parties, but gaining Ochill & South Perthshire should be an easy win.

Plaid Cymru or the Party of Wales. They won 3 seats in 2005, but the boundary changes meant they have only a notional 2 at the start of this election campaign. The leader is Westminster in Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meironnydd). Like the SNP it's a centre-left party committed to Welsh independence. Expect gains in Arfon and Ynys Mon.

Democratic Unionist Party is the largest party in Northern Ireland with 9 seats. Generally considered to be a hardline unionist group they have been sucessfully leading the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is unclear what the effect of this election (and of the recent revelations of it's leader Peter Robinson) will be.

Sinn Fein are the main voice for Irish republicanism. The part have historically refused to take the oath to the Queen required to sit in the house, therefore in spite of winning 5 seats at the last election they have no voice in Westminster. Again we have no way of second guessing how many seats they will win.

SDLP are the more moderate republicans, who do sit in Westminster and have historically been closely aligned with the Labour party. They currently have 3 seats.

Ulster Unionist Party or the Conservative party in Ireland are a more moderate unionist group than the DUP. Thy won only one seat in 2005, but the Tories will be hoping for a increase in support at this election.

Alliance are the fifth party in Northern Ireland, closely linked to the Lieral Democrats. Their main aim is to separate sectarian divides from Northern Ireland politics. They have no seats, and are very unlikely to gain one at this election.

Other Parties

Respect are an offshoot of the Labour party, formed following the invasion of Iraq to oppose that war. They hold one seat - Bethnal Green - and have a strong following in other areas of East London, but are not exected to increase their representation.

Green are not as big a force in the UK as in many other European contries. As well as strong environmental policies the Greens also espouse socialist policies. The leader, Caroline Lucas, has a good chance of winning in Brighton Pavillion.

UK Independence Party largely a group of well meaning amateurs UKIP still managed over 600,000 votes at the last election with their single policy of exiting the European Union. Whilst the total votes are likely to increase winning a seat is still a long way away. The parties strongest hopes are Buckingham, where they're fighting the speaker of the house and Boston & Skegness.

British National Party the one party that I would urge you not to vote for. Their far-right xenophobic policies do not belong in modern politics. Nevertheless support for them has increased in recent years, and they now have representation in the European Parliament. Their key battlegrounds are Barking, West Bromwich West and Burnley.

Socialist Labour Party does what it says on the tin. They field a lot of candidates but are not expected to come close to any seats.

Liberal essentially formed when the Liberal Democrats were created they syphon a few votes off their more successful Liberal brethren but are little more than a side show. Oddly did well in Liverpool West Derby, but nowhere near well enough to win a seat.


We have a strong history of independent candidates in the UK, with the results of many seats being affected by them, if not actually won by them. There are currently 2 independent MPs: Richard Taylor of Wyre Forest (standing as the Independent Community Health Concern) he was elected on the ticket to save his local hospital and Dai Davies of Blaenau Gwent (standing as People's Voice) who stood following the death of Peter Law (also People's Voice) a local disgruntled Labour member. Both Taylor and Davies look vulnerable to losing their seats at this election. Other seats which had strongly rated independent candidates at the last election include Burnley, Mansfield, West Tyrone and Ynys Mon.

Interesting Seats

There are a number of seats that will prove interesting in this election, and they really come into 3 different groupings.

Target seats

As the only real alternative to a Labour Government all eyes will be on the Conservative party gains. If we assume that the only party the Tories can make their gains from are Labour (not totally unlikely given the Lib Dem boost) then the 116 constituencies which Labour hold the smallest majority over the Conservatives will be the ones the Tories need to win. The easiest gain will be Gillingham & Rainham where Labour have a majority of just 37 votes, but the rest are as follows: Crawley, Harlow, Croydon Central, Portsmouth North, Battersea, Hove, Milton Keynes North, Dartford, Stroud, Basildon South, City of Chester, Ealing Central and Acton, Cardiff North, Colne Valley, Hastings & Rye, Calder Valley, Milton Keynes South, Stourbridge, Corby, Vale of Glamorgan, Swindon South, Dorset South, High Peak, Northampton South, Loughborough, Aberconwy, Birmingham Edgbaston, Stafford, Broxtowe, Burton, Brighton Kemptown, Bury North, Redditch, Rugby, Pendle, Wolverhampton SW, Carmarthen West, Derbyshire South, South Ribble, Bristol North West, Dumfries & Galloway, Tamworth, Cleethorpes, Swindon North, Westminster North, Worcester, Harrow East, Great Yarmouth, Eltham, Brigg & Goole, Bedford, Hendon, Stevenage, Bradford West, Brentford & Isleworth, Chatham & Aylesford, Hammersmith, Rossendale & Darwen, Blackpool North, Halifax, Lancaster & Fleetwood, Dewsbury, Dudley South, Northampton North, Warrington South, Wirral South, Leicestershire NW, Lincoln, Gedling, Halesowen, Nuneaton, Dover, Warwick & Leamington, Keighley, Poplar & Limehouse, Stirling, Plymouth Sutton, Dudley North, Reading West, Elmet & Rothwell, Pudsey, Tynemouth, Ipswich, Morecombe & Lunesdale, Bolton North East, Bolton West, Sefton Central, Waveney, Tooting, Amber Valley, Barrow & Furness, Gloucester, Thurrock, Brighton Pavillion, Copeland, Carlisle, Stockton South, Batley & Spen, Hyndburn, Kingswood, Renfrewshire East, Weaver Vale, Lancashire West, Vale of Clywd, Derby North, Luton South, Telford, Coventry South, Newport West, Warwickshire North, Crewe & Nantwich, Leeds North East, Erewash, Dagenham & Rainham and Sherwood. In Sherwood the Conservatives have to overcome a majority of 6,652 seats.

At the same time the Conservatives will need to fight a rear guard action against the Liberal Democrats. Could lead for an interesting race.

Unusual Seats

A number of seats wil have unusual outcomes due to other factors these include:

North Down, where existing UUP MP Sylvia Hermon is running as an independent in protest to the closer ties with the Conservative party.

Stockton North, where existing Labour MP Frank Cook is running as an independent following his deselection.

Fermanagh & South Tyrone, where the DUP and UUP have stood down to allow independent candidate Joh Stevenson to stand against Sinn Fein.

Ayrshire North & Arran, the conservative candidate Philip Lardner has been deselected following homophobic comments on his website. The Conservatives now have no candidate here.

Thirsk & Malton, the election here has been postponed for three weeks in deference to the untimely death of UKIP candidate John Boakes.

Glasgow NE and Buckingham are the seats of the former and new Speaker of the House. As the speaker is technically independent from party politics the other 2 main parties tend not to stand against them, where the speaker has transferred from Labour to Conservative this will have the effect of slightly accentuating the swing between those parties. Although both are safe seats.

MPs Expenses Scandal

Perhaps the most difficult to predict aspect of this election is the expenses scandal which rocked confidence in the political process, led to high proportions of MPs paying back their claims. It was thought, prior to the TV debates, that this would dramatically reduce the proportion of the electorate who actually vote and therefore affect the results in unexpected ways. It could still lead to a rise in votes for the smaller and independent candidates, even though there is an unprecedented number of MPs standing down at this election (145). TV personality Esther Rantzen, for instance, is standing in Luton South under the clean Parliament ticket. Other seats which could fluctuate due the scandal include Bury North, Livingston and Scunthorpe where the sitting MPs have all been charged of theft by false accounting, and Feltham & Heston and Salford & Eccles where high profile MPs are still standing.

Well that's my guide. I hope you all join me on Thursday for my live-blogging.



TomS said...


Thank you for this brief and easy-to-read lesson in British government.

You are a good citizen, and may have a second career ahead of you as an instructor of civics!

I will think of you as I listen to the BBC news and other items about the elections there.

Runs Like A Gay said...

More of a statistics instructor than civics I'm afraid. It's the numbers that fascinate me.

How much coverage do you get over there (aside from the BBC)?