Democracy Decoded: 2024 General Election basics

Despite dreadful weather and an unexpected soundtrack, the 22nd of May was marked by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s shock general election announcement. Standing outside Number 10, the rain-soaked PM was accompanied by Tony Blair’s iconic election tune ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ blaring from protestors’ loudspeakers as he revealed that the nation would head to the polls on the 4th of July.

But what does bringing out the ballot boxes really entail? 

Put simply the general election has one purpose: to elect Members of Parliament, MPs, to the House of Commons.

With the country divided into 650 areas, known formally as constituencies, both independent candidates and those from political parties stand in elections, endeavouring to represent their constituency and its residents in parliament.

The leader of the political party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons (the most elected MPs) will then assume the role of prime minister. 

Parties are promising changes in sectors ranging from the economy and education to health and immigration.

Presenting four key points for policy delivery, the Conservative party manifesto focuses on securing a strong economy, borders, and the future of young people and local communities. Amongst various new initiatives, the party pledges cuts to National Insurance, a boost to defence spending and the implementation of a new model of National Service alongside 100,000 high-quality apprenticeships and 120,000 extra NHS nurses and doctors.

Labour’s manifesto contains 5 integral elements: economic growth, bringing clean energy to the forefront, reducing violent crime and reshaping the police force, reforming childcare and education and building a stronger NHS. Their policies include forming ‘A New Deal for Working People’, a plan for ‘working people to take their voices back’. They intend to cut bills and create 650,000 new high-quality jobs nationally by creating a publicly owned energy company in Great British Energy. The party also promises to recruit 6,500 new teachers in key subjects and deliver 40,000 more NHS appointments every week.

The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto puts fairness and equity at the forefront of their election campaigns. They pledge to foster economic stability through responsible management of public finances while tackling rising food prices through a National Food Strategy. Supporting research and innovation, particularly within small businesses and universities, is on their agenda with mental health hubs and plans to be able to see a GP within 7 days, or 24 hours if urgent, with 8,000 more doctors to deliver on it. 

The Green Party promises immediate boosts to the pay of NHS staff and junior doctors and funding to roll out free dental nursing for children and those on low incomes. Alongside phasing out fossil fuels and nuclear energy, the party promises £40bn investment per year to shift to a green economy with further spending to grow skills-building programmes and training for workers all over the UK.

Founded in 2018 as the Brexit party, Reform UK offer a manifesto in the form of what they call a contract which outlines their pledges to control immigration, cut taxes, government waste and red tape as well as plans to maximise Britain’s energy sources to reduce the cost of energy, overcome the cost-of-living crisis and increase economic growth.

There are also several smaller and local parties, as well as independents, running across the country. It is incredibly important to look up the list of candidates for the constituency you will be voting in when choosing who to vote.  

Deciding who will have the opportunity to put their pledges into practice comes down to us: the electorate. 

Naturally, issues specific to their constituency are key for candidates to secure ticks on ballot slips. Candidates may shift from big-picture thinking and make room for community-oriented approaches and initiatives whilst still staying somewhat enamoured with the policy direction of their political party.

Alongside local solutions pioneered by these parliamentary candidates, it’s no surprise that public perceptions of party leaders and senior ministers rock the voting preferences boat. As such, nationwide campaigning in its various forms is commonplace in the lead-up to a general election, with heated televised debates and social media engagement among those tools employed by political parties to garner much-needed attention from prospective voters. 

Can I vote?

All those on the electoral register over the age of 18 come polling day who are a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen, or a Republic of Ireland citizen with a UK address can vote.

Each person has one vote that can be cast at their dedicated polling station on Thursday 4th July between 7 am and 10 pm alongside a valid form of ID such as a driver’s license or passport. Alternatively, if you can’t be present in casting your vote on election day, doing so by post or proxy is also an option.  

With the deadline fast approaching, those eligible must register to vote by 23:59 BST tonight to ensure they can head to the voting booths unimpeded. Registration for voting by post or proxy must be completed by 17:00 BST on Wednesday 19th June or 17:00 on Wednesday 26th June respectively. 

For students, registration at their home and term-time address is possible. However, they can only vote in one place on election day.

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