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United Kingdom - Politics

UK voters tend to revert to their traditional party allegiances as an election nears -- despite what they have told pollsters about their voting intentions in the pre-election period. While voters no longer distinguish themselves strictly along the ideological lines of the 1970s and 80s -- socialists versus capitalists -- there remain strong class ties to voting patterns.

Between 1945 and 1997, UK turnout was roughly between 71-83 percent; 2001 turnout fell to 59.4 percent, and rose again in 2005 to 61.4 percent. Typically, the Tories (whose core supporters are regular and committed voters) hope for low turnout in elections as it suggests that Labour and Lib Dem voters have stayed home.

Owen Jones wrote in The Guardian in February 2015: "The media polices the boundaries of acceptable debate in Britain, helping to ensure that the national conversation is on the terms most favourable to those with wealth and power. According to the opinion polls, most Britons want public ownership of rail and energy, higher taxes on the rich and a statutory living wage. Yet despite the fact such policies are political common sense among the public, they are ignored or actively opposed by almost all media outlets. If you are one of the very few commentators with a media platform that advocates them, you are treated as chronically naive, or as a dinosaur who isn't aware of their own extinction."

The Conservative Party had held power since 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. On November 22, 1990, Margaret Thatcher stood down as Prime Minister. John Major entered the contest, as Margaret Thatcher's preferred candidate. He narrowly won the 1992 General Election for the Conservative Party. He tried to steer a middle course on Europe, but only angered both the pro-Europeans and the Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party lost its Parliamentary majority in December 1996, but John Major remained in office for a few more months.

Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was elected on May 1, 1997, with a massive 176-seat majority in the House of Commons. Labour's victory ended an 18-year run of Conservative (Tory) Party rule in the UK. Blair worked hard to reorganize and reenergize the Labour Party, moving it steadily to the center of the political spectrum.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were liberal politicians who embraced a new approach to governing -- the so-called "third way," which combined market forces with government action. Blair played an instrumental role in achieving peace in Northern Ireland and negotiating the Good Friday Agreement which brought all communities into the political and governmental process and ended centuries of division, conflict, and strife.

In 2003, Blair's support of the USA's war plans showed a complete and utter disregard for the views of the vast majority of British voters. Blair disregarded opinion polls showing that more than 80% of Britons are against a war, and continued to send British troops to Iraq. Blair was elected on the strength of promises to reform, among others, Britain's healthcare and traffic problems, but these seemed to be all but forgotten.

The United Kingdom Independence Party [UKIP], which would pull Britain out of the European Union, scored a surprising third-place finish in June 2004 elections for the European parliament, just five points behind Labor and ahead of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair called a national election for 05 May 2005. The main opposition parties hope to overcome that lead by highlighting Blair's support for the war in Iraq, which remains largely unpopular in Britain. Tony Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister ever to win a third consecutive term when he was re-elected on May 5, 2005. Labour had a 62-seat majority in the House of Commons. The Conservative (Tory) Party and Liberal-Democrats (LibDems) form the major opposition parties.

The British media made much of the March 2006 revelation that Prime Minister Blair nominated some wealthy individuals for peerages after they had made unpublicized loans to his Labour party. Those loans were not public knowledge, because transparency rules (introduced by Blair) apply only to donations, not loans. All those involved denied that peerages or honors were promised in exchange for the loans, and there was no evidence that any laws were broken.

Blair lost the support of the British people, many of whom strongly opposed his close association with President Bush's Iraq policy. Having promised to step down before the next general election, and being unpopular with much of the media and the left wing of his own party, Blair stepped down as Prime Minister in June 2007.

Labour Party leader Gordon Brown succeeded him. A lot had happened during the last 10 years under Mr. Blair's leadership, and Gordon Brown will inherit a demoralized and unpopular Labour Party lagging far behind the opposition Conservatives in the polls. The main British parties support a strong transatlantic link, but are increasingly absorbed by European issues as Britain's economic and political ties to the continent grow in the post-Cold War world. Prime Minister Brown continued Blair’s policy of having the United Kingdom play a leading role in Europe even as the United Kingdom maintains its strong bilateral relationship with the United States.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was never elected to the post by his party, remained uncharismatic. The Labour Party had performed strongly in marginal constituencies in the last three elections. Labour's landslide victory in 1997 demonstrated the party's ability to win small majorities in marginal seats. Similarly, in the 2005 election Labour used the same formula targeting marginal constituencies -- winning 88 seats with less than a majority of 10 percent. Efficient campaigning and appeals to middle income voters have been effective Labour tools in courting marginal seats.

Cameron's Tories, however, had not succeeded in seizing the opportunity that Brown's lack of popularity presented. Cameron, who has regularly polled as more trustworthy and a better leader than Brown, has tried to distinguish himself from Brown on the budget by calling for an age of austerity, without detailing what cuts his government would make, and has fashioned himself as a new generation Tory, pledging to empower individuals and communities.

The Labour government that had been in power since 1997, first under Prime Minister Tony Blair and then under his successor, Gordon Brown, lost its majority in the House of Commons in the May 6, 2010 election. For the first time since 1974, however, no party was able to win a full majority in the Commons, resulting in a hung parliament in which no party wins an outright majority. This led to several days of intense negotiations between the Conservatives (Tories), who won the most seats, and the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), who placed third in number of seats won. On May 11, when it became clear that Labour would be unable to form a government, Prime Minister Gordon Brown resigned, and David Cameron became the new Prime Minister.

Cameron subsequently announced a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats, which would ensure Liberal Democrat support for a Conservative-led government in exchange for five Liberal Democrat cabinet seats and policy compromises. As part of the coalition deal, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg became the Deputy Prime Minister. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has an 83-seat majority in the House of Commons, and the Labour Party forms the official opposition. Gordon Brown resigned as Labour leader on May 11, and was succeeded by Ed Miliband in a September 2010 Labour party election.

Far-right, anti-EU parties made strong gains following European elections in May 2014. The anti-EU UK Independence Party topped the vote, and now held a third of Britain’s 73 seats in the European Parliament. Party leader Nigel Farage vowed to repeat the success in national elections - and force a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

The national election in May 2015 was expected to be the closest in a generation, with Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives initially polling neck and neck with the opposition Labour party.

Cameron promised a referendum on Britain's EU membership after the May 2015 election and wanted the treaty revived to allow countries to opt out of the historic objective of an "ever closer union" to fend off criticisms of eurosceptics in his party and in the hard right UK Independence Party (Ukip). Following the General Election in May 2015, one of the first challenges was the development of a Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

On 23 June 2016 Britain made a historic decision to leave the European Union in a referendum that stoked passions on issues of immigration and sovereignty, and prompted the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron. “The British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction,” Cameron told reporters outside 10 Downing Street. Cameron said that transition should happen in October 2016.

Negotiating a divorce from the bloc would be troublesome and destabilizing, especially if the British government seeks to negotiate an EU free trade deal along the lines of Norway or Switzerland, which would include abiding by EU regulations and accepting free movement of labor. At least 110 Conservative MPs out of 330 could well vote against seeking such a deal. And with a Conservative majority of just eight in the House of Commons, the government would have to rely on the support of opposition lawmakers. If the opposition didn’t assist, an early general election could be triggered. David Cameron stepped down after a majority of voters opted to leave the European Union.

Theresa May moved into 10 Downing Street in July 2016. The early general election May called proved to be a mistake. She had hoped that the vote would strengthen her position in Brexit talks with the EU. Instead, it became a humiliation, with the Conservative Party losing 13 seats and its majority in Parliament, The deal Prime Minister May struck with the EU had been rejected three times by the House of Commons, leading to the EU twice granting the UK an extension.

Theresa May announced 24 May 2019 she would resign as Tory leader on 07 June 2019. The frontrunner to replace May, Boris Johnson, thanked her for "stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit."

A Conservative leadership contest was expected to take place across the summer in 2019 with a new Prime Minister in place before the Conservative Party Conference in September. There are 18 candidates who are expected throw their hat into the ring to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader. Johnson faced competition from former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, as well as a potential second run for power from Leadsom. Leadsom lost out to May in the bid to succeed David Cameron in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart, an advocate of a so-called "soft" Brexit, and former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey, who wants a "hard" Brexit, have announced they will run. Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom, who came second in a leadership bid in 2016, said she is "considering" standing. Other possible contenders include former and current members of the Cabinet, including Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has carried forward Johnson's gaffe-prone legacy since taking over the job.

Bookmakers believed that Johnson was the leading candidate to replace May, giving him a roughly 1-in-4 chance of claiming the job. Johnson was also seen as a frontrunner to succeed David Cameron in 2016, before surprisingly announcing he would not run. Whoever replaced May would face the same parliamentary arithmetic which denied May an outright majority and a public greatly dissatisfied both with the delivery of Brexit and the state of the nation's leadership more generally.

The two contenders for the post were Boris Johnson, tipped as the frontrunner, and his successor, Jeremy Hunt. Meanwhile, the decision of 160,000 members of the Conservative Party as to who will be Britain's next prime minister would be announced on Tuesday 23 July 2019. Wednesday 24 July 2019 would be incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May's last day in office.

Next General Election - May 2024 at the latest

The next general election is due to take place May 2024 at the latest. Labour leader Keir Starmer has struggled to revive his party's fortunes since a disastrous national election in 2019. In the last election in December 2019, when Brexit was the dominant issue and Conservatives grabbed a string of seats across Labour's so-called "Red Wall" heartlands in northern England. Under the left-leaning leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, this was Labour's worst election result since 1935. Starmer was elected leader a year ago promising to rebuild the party and reconnect with its traditional voters. Starmer had already played down expectations for Labour, stressing: "I never thought we would climb the mountain we have to climb in just one year." He said "We've got to rebuild into the next general election – that is the task in hand".

On 06 May 2021, some 50 million voters were eligible to take part in scores of elections. Results covered local and mayoral elections across England and votes for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments. Voters in an opposition stronghold turned en masse to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives, boosting his parliamentary majority on Friday despite a high Covid-19 death toll, last year's record economic slump and cronyism charges. Hartlepool, a strongly pro-Brexit rust-belt constituency deep in traditional Labour heartlands that has never voted Conservative since its creation in 1974, saw a 16 percent swing to the Tories. Conservative Jill Mortimer beat Labour's candidate in Thursday's ballot by 15,529 votes to 8,589 to take the parliamentary seat for Hartlepool, a victory once unthinkable in a northeast English port town that for decades backed Britain's main opposition party. PM Johnson celebrated by quickly visiting Hartlepool, where he ascribed his party's success to its policies of delivering Brexit and ploughing money into areas where many voters have felt neglected by successive London-based governments. It was only the third time since the 1960s that a governing party had won a parliamentary by-election. Election analysts said it was the biggest swing of votes to the ruling party at a by-election since World War II.

The coronavirus pandemic delayed some of last year's scheduled contests for local governments, making this year's voting the largest test of public opinion outside a general election in nearly half a century. The Tories also won 583 council seats up and down the country and took Northumberland, Dudley and several other councils from Labour, which lost dozens of seats. Many Labour Party supporters questioned whether Starmer was the right man to lead the party. Starmer faced a backlash from left-wing luminaries in his party for the disappointing early results. They said Starmer failed to connect with traditional working-class Labour voters, coming across as a “metropolitan technocrat” out of touch with their everyday concerns.

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Page last modified: 07-05-2021 18:09:56 ZULU