2015 is finally here and in just a couple of months, on 7 May, we will all be voting in the general election – or at least we all should be.
2014 was a busy time for British politics; Scotland voted ‘No’ to independence in the Scottish Referendum, controversial party UKIP took an unprecedented number of seats in the local elections and the way we register to vote was given a dramatic overhaul.
We consider the upcoming general election and what you need to do to make sure you’re on the electoral roll.
What is a General Election?
A general election is held when parliament is dissolved, resulting in every seat in the House of Commons becoming vacant. The Fixed Term Parliament Act provides for a general election to be held on the first Thursday in May, every five years.
Each constituency in the UK elects one MP to a seat in the House of Commons – the political party that wins the most seats will usually form the government.
In some cases, such as in the last UK general election, a coalition government will be formed. This is when the government is formed of two political parties, and occurs if none of the parties win enough of a majority to form a functioning government.
Image by Loz Flowers
The 2015 General Election
As the election looms closer there seems to be only one thing that people can agree on – that it’ll be unpredictable. Experts have suggested that this uncertainty is due to the fact, that for the first time in British history, it’s a five horse race. This makes it more difficult for any of the major parties to achieve the majority they need, making a coalition government more likely. The five top parties are:
The Conservative Party (currently part of the coalition government)
The Liberal Democrats (currently part of the coalition government)
In the latest polls, Labour has been in the lead, followed closely by the Conservatives. Behind these two forerunners are UKIP, then the Green Party and finally the Liberal Democrats. However, in such a close race, it’s impossible to accurately predict the result.
The suggested schedule for television debates is currently 2 April, 16 April and 30 April, and is likely to feature a head-to-head clash between David Cameron and Labour leader Edward Miliband, another debate with David Cameron, Edward Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and one debate also featuring UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Other key dates include:
30 March – dissolution – the dissolution of parliament will take place. There will also be a proclamation announcing when parliament will meet again after the general election.
7 May – election day – polling booths will open between 7am and 10pm. When the polls close, counting begins.
Dates are still to be announced for the voter registration deadline (by which you must register to be able vote in the election), return of parliament, Queen’s speech and election of the speaker of the House of Commons.
An up-to-date schedule can be found here on the parliament website.
Expected Turn Out
The 2010 election saw 29.6 million people head to the polls – two million more than in 2005. Logically, this fact is encouraging and suggests that we may see a similar growth in numbers in May.
It’s also been suggested that the political fervour whipped up by the Scottish Referendum, which saw a massive 97% of the eligible population register, could spill over into the general election, resulting in a high turnout of voters.
If the Referendum proved anything, it was that British people are engaged in and do care about politics – something which is essential in a world where political apathy can have dangerous consequences.
Individual & Online Electoral Roll Registration
We previously published a post about the introduction of online electoral roll registration (you can still register by post). Online registration was introduced as part of the wider Individual Electoral Registration (IER) movement, which was announced in 2009.
Individual Electoral Registration was the biggest shake-up to the electoral system for decades and was designed to encourage greater political engagement, as well as better protection against fraud.
In the past, one person in every household was responsible for registering everyone else who lived at that address. Under Individual Electoral Registration, each person is required to individually register and provide ‘identifying information’ such as date of birth and National Insurance Number.
However, despite the apparent benefits, individual registration does have its critics – with Labour blaming the ‘hasty’ introduction of the new system for the one million voters ‘missing’ from the electoral roll.
What you need to do to register
Registering to vote is simple. The new online system is designed to take just five minutes and requires your personal details, such as name and address, and your National Insurance Number (NIN). You can find your NIN on your payslip, P60 or tax return, or you can get it in writing by filling out the form CA5403.
With May’s general election result likely to be such a close call, there’s never been a more important time to cast your vote. To be able to this, you must register to vote before the cut-off date, which is yet to be announced but is almost certainly soon.
Register today and ensure that your vote counts.