UK general election: Main contenders, key issues; All you need to know

UK general election: Main contenders, key issues; All you need to know



In a surprising move, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for an early general election on July 4, a decision that many in Westminster believe will result in his defeat. The outcome of this election will determine whether the Conservative party’s 14-year rule will come to an end, paving the way for a centre-left Labour government led by Keir Starmer, or if Sunak can pull off an unexpected victory and extend the Conservative dynasty.
The general election will decide the composition of the House of Commons, with each of the UK’s 650 constituencies electing one Member of Parliament (MP) to represent local residents. Voters will cast their ballots at polling stations between 07 am and 10 pm on election day, with some opting for postal voting in advance. The candidate with the most votes in each constituency will become the MP for that area under the “first past the post” system. A record number of candidates, exceeding 4,000, are campaigning for the July 4 election.
Sunak’s call for an early election
Sunak had until December to call an election, with the vote to be held by the following month. Despite hints that the election would take place in the second half of 2024, he remained tight-lipped about his decision, fueling speculation in Westminster. Faced with challenging options, including a gloomy economy and a controversial plan to process asylum seekers’ claims in Rwanda, Sunak ultimately decided to call the election following rare positive economic news.
Who is expected to emerge victorious?
The prevailing expectation is that the Conservative Party will lose the election, as Labour has maintained a substantial lead in opinion polls since late 2021. The Conservative brand has been tarnished by various scandals, including Partygate, which led to Boris Johnson’s downfall, and the chaotic six-week tenure of his successor, Liz Truss.
Despite the significant lead the opposition party holds in the polls, Rishi Sunak’s campaign team finds solace in certain underlying figures. Although Keir Starmer is ahead of Sunak when respondents are asked who would be a better prime minister, the margin is considerably narrower than the overall difference in party voting intentions. Sunak has attempted to maintain a “me versus him” narrative to capitalise on this.
However, since assuming leadership, Sunak has been unable to shift the polls in his favour, and the gap has remained unchanged since the beginning of the campaign.
How does the UK decide its Prime Minister?
On July 4, Britons will cast their votes, and the winner will be declared in the early hours of Friday morning. In the UK, voters elect MPs to represent their local constituencies, and the leader of the party that wins a majority of the 650 constituencies becomes the prime minister and forms the government.
If no party secures an overall majority, they may rule as a minority government or form a coalition. The monarch, King Charles III, has a formal role in approving the formation of a government, the decision to hold an election, and the dissolution of parliament, but he will not contradict the prime minister or overrule the election results.
Key issues in UK
Labour is expected to frame the election as a referendum on the Conservative party’s 14-year rule, highlighting public fatigue with the party’s multiple prime ministers, Brexit, a struggling economy, and various scandals. Starmer will likely focus on the cost of living and the state of the National Health Service (NHS).
In contrast, Sunak will emphasise migration, particularly his “Stop the Boats” pledge and the Rwanda policy, while attempting to convince voters that the economy has improved and that a change in governance would be risky. Early indications suggest that Sunak will also make leadership a central issue, highlighting his experience as finance minister during the Covid-19 pandemic and criticizing Starmer’s record.
The following are the key figures and parties contesting in this crucial national poll:
Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer, the 61-year-old leader of the Labour Party, is a former human rights lawyer and chief public prosecutor who is favoured by pollsters to emerge victorious in the upcoming election and assume the role of prime minister.
Since taking over as leader from the left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn in April 2020, Starmer has been praised for steering his party towards the political centre and eradicating anti-Semitism within its ranks.
His supporters view him as a pragmatic and reliable leader, well-equipped to guide Britain out of its economic downturn.
However, his detractors argue that he lacks charisma and has been indecisive, failing to articulate a clear vision for the nation during a cautious campaign.
Born in London to a toolmaker father and a nurse mother, Starmer’s unusual first name was chosen by his socialist parents as a tribute to Keir Hardie, the founding father of the Labour Party. An avid football fan and supporter of Arsenal, Starmer was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions to criminal justice, although he seldom uses the title “Sir” before his name.
Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak, aged 44, is aiming to secure a personal mandate from the British electorate after being appointed as the Conservative leader and prime minister by his fellow MPs in October 2022. He took over from Liz Truss, who was forced out of office after a mere 49 days due to her tax-cutting economic policies that alarmed financial markets and caused her to lose the backing of her party.
Sunak, who has Indian heritage, holds the distinction of being the UK’s first British Asian and Hindu prime minister. The former financier has been praised for bringing stability to the government following the turmoil of the Truss and Boris Johnson administrations and for successfully reducing inflation.
However, he has been unable to fulfil several commitments, such as reducing healthcare waiting lists, curbing irregular immigration, and deporting migrants to Rwanda.
Sunak’s campaign has been lacklustre and marred by missteps, beginning with his rain-drenched announcement of the election date and including criticism for his absence from the main D-Day anniversary commemoration. According to opinion polls, his approval ratings are among the lowest of any prime minister in history.
Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage, the 60-year-old former member of the European Parliament, is a polarizing figure in British politics. Known for his love of beer and cigarettes, he played a significant role in convincing a majority of Britons to vote in favour of leaving the European Union in 2016, earning him the moniker “Mr Brexit” from former US President Donald Trump.
Despite his influence on the Brexit referendum, Farage has been unsuccessful in his attempts to become a Member of Parliament, having stood for election seven times previously. He currently leads the hard-right Reform UK party, which could potentially impact the Conservative Party’s chances of winning re-election by taking away crucial seats.
Recently, Farage and his party have been embroiled in a racism scandal after several Reform activists were caught on camera making racist and homophobic comments. As a result, Reform disowned three candidates over the weekend due to their offensive remarks. Farage also faced criticism for suggesting that the West “provoked” Russia into invading Ukraine.
Swinney, Davey and Denyer
While neither Ed Davey‘s Liberal Democrats nor John Swinney‘s Scottish National Party (SNP) are expected to win the election outright, they could play a significant role in determining the outcome. Davey, 58, aims to prevent a Conservative victory by winning several seats in southern England and overtaking the SNP to become the third-largest party in parliament. He has balanced campaigning on serious issues with lighthearted stunts to gain attention.
Swinney, 60, is not a member of the UK parliament but serves as the first minister in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, having assumed leadership of the SNP in May following Humza Yousaf’s resignation. The SNP is currently facing challenges from a resurgent Labour Party in Scotland, which could jeopardize its hopes for independence for a generation.
Meanwhile, Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, 38, is aiming to win the newly created seat of Bristol Central as her party seeks to increase its representation in parliament from one to four MPs.





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